The WHO said Wednesday that there have been hundreds of cases of monkeypox outside of African countries where the disease is commonly found, warning that the virus may have spread under radar.
“Investigations are ongoing, but at the same time the sudden appearance of monkeypox in many countries indicates that there may be an unknown infection for some time,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanam Ghebreiss told reporters.
Since the UK first reported a confirmed monkeypox case on May 7, more than 550 confirmed cases of the disease have been verified in 30 countries outside of West and Central African countries where it is local, the WHO said.
Rosamund Lewis, a leading monkeypox expert at the UN health agency, said the presence of so many cases in Europe and other countries where it had never been seen before was “clearly a cause for concern, and suggests an undiagnosed infection for some time.”
“We don’t know if it’s for weeks, months or maybe years,” he said.
Monkeypox is linked to smallpox, which killed millions of people worldwide each year before it was eradicated in 1980.
But monkeypox, which is spread through close contact, is much less severe, the symptoms usually being a high fever and a blister-like rash like a chickenpox that clears up after a few weeks.
So far, most cases have been reported in men who have sex with men, although experts insist there is no evidence that monkeypox has been sexually transmitted.
“Anyone who comes in close physical contact with someone who is infected can get monkeypox,” Tedros said.
He urged everyone to “help fight the scandal, which is not only wrong, it can also prevent infected people from taking care of them, making it difficult to stop the infection.”
He said the WHO was “urging affected countries to increase their surveillance”.
Lewis stressed that “we all work together to prevent further spread” through the search and isolation of people with the disease.
Vaccines developed for smallpox have also been shown to be about 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox, but their supply is low.
The WHO is not proposing mass immunization, but is using targets in some settings to protect health workers and people at risk of infection.
Lewis highlighted that the incidence of monkeypox has also increased in local countries, where thousands fall ill each year, with about 70 deaths from the virus in five African countries so far this year.
Mortality rates for monkeypox are generally quite low, and no deaths have been reported so far in cases reported outside of local countries.
But Maria van Kerkhov, WHO, leading the emerging disease, warned that no deaths were reported, but that could change if the virus enters more vulnerable populations.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)