The WHO said Monday it was not concerned that the spread of monkeypox outside African countries, where it is commonly found, could cause a global epidemic.
Since the UK first reported a confirmed monkeypox case on May 7, about 400 suspected and confirmed cases have been reported to the World Health Organization in about two dozen countries where the virus is endemic.
The UN health agency has expressed concern about the “abnormal situation”, but reiterated on Monday that there is no reason to panic about the virus, which is spread through close contact and does not usually cause serious illness.
Asked during an epidemic briefing if the virus, which is endemic to a range of West and Central African countries, could trigger another epidemic, WHO’s top monkeypox expert Rosamund Lewis admitted that “we don’t know.”
But “we don’t think so,” he said. “At the moment, we are not concerned about the global epidemic.”
He said it was important to take immediate action to prevent the spread of the virus.
“It’s still possible to stop this outbreak before it gets bigger,” he told an online public forum.
“I don’t think we should be intimidated collectively.”
Monkeypox is linked to smallpox, which killed millions of people worldwide each year before it was eradicated in 1980.
But monkeypox is much less serious, and most people recover within three to four weeks.
Early symptoms include high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blister like chickenpox.
– ‘Not a homosexual disease’ –
Experts are trying to determine why the virus has suddenly spread to countries where it has never been seen before, and mainly among young people.
One theory is that monkeypox spreads more easily among people under the age of 45 who have not been vaccinated against smallpox.
Vaccines developed for smallpox have also been shown to be about 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox, but their supply is low.
Experts worry that monkeypox could take advantage of the global immune gap to fill the void left by smallpox.
“We’re concerned that it will replace smallpox, and we don’t really want that to happen,” said Lewis, who is also the head of the WHO’s smallpox secretariat.
He emphasized the importance of raising awareness among those at risk, identifying cases early, isolating infected people and tracking their identities.
“If we all respond quickly, and we all work together, we will be able to stop it … before it reaches more vulnerable people,” he said.
So far, in many cases young men and women have had sex with men.
Experts emphasize that there is no evidence that monkeypox is sexually transmitted, but suggest that a number of so-called amplification cases have occurred where members of the LGBTQ community have been gathered together.
“It’s not a homosexual disease,” Andy Seal of the WHO’s Sexually Transmitted Infections program told the public forum.
Sylvie Bryand, WHO’s head of epidemics and epidemic preparedness and prevention, acknowledged that “respiratory infections” were also occurring.
However, he said it was unclear whether the infection was “mostly caused by leaks or by airborne contamination.”
“There are still many unknowns,” he told a pandemic briefing on Monday.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)