The World Health Organization has said it expects to detect more cases of monkeypox as it expands surveillance in countries where the disease is not usually detected.
As of Saturday, of the 12 non-endemic member states, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported, the UN agency said, adding that in the coming days it will provide additional guidance and recommendations to countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox.
“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission occurs in people who are in close physical contact with symptomatic cases,” the agency added.
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild and endemic in some parts of West and Central Africa. It spreads in close contact, so it can be relatively easily restrained by measures such as self-isolation and hygiene.
“What seems to be happening now is that it has entered the population as a sexual form, as a genital form and is spreading like sexually transmitted infections, which has increased its transmission around the world,” said WHO spokesman David Heyman. An infectious disease specialist, Reuters reported.
Hayman said an international committee of experts had gathered via video conference to see what needed to be studied about the outbreak and to inform the public, including whether there was an asymptomatic spread, who was most at risk and different routes of transmission.
According to him, the meeting was convened “due to the urgency of the situation.” The Committee is not a group that would propose to declare a public health emergency of international concern, the highest form of WHO alert relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said close contact was the key route of transmission, as typical lesions of the disease are highly infectious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as are health workers, so some countries have started vaccinating teams that treat monkeypox patients with smallpox vaccines, a related virus.
Early genomic sequencing of several cases in Europe suggested similarities with the strain, which spread to a limited extent in the UK, Israel and Singapore in 2018.
Heyman said it was “biologically plausible” that the virus was circulating outside countries where it is endemic, but did not cause serious outbreaks due to COVID-19 blockade, social distancing and travel restrictions.
He stressed that the smallpox outbreak did not resemble the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it is not so easily transmitted. He said that those who suspect they have been exposed, or who are showing symptoms including rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others.
“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is that you can protect yourself,” he added.