WHO: Nearly 200 monkeypox cases in more than 20 countries

LONDON – The World Health Organization says nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries that are generally unaware of the unusual outbreak, but describe the epidemic as “controllable” and Stockpiles are recommended to share equitably limited vaccines and globally available medicines.

In a public briefing on Friday, the UN health agency said there were still many unanswered questions about what triggered the unprecedented monkeypox outbreak outside Africa, but there was no evidence that any genetic changes in the virus were responsible .

“The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is not dissimilar to what we have found in endemic countries, and that (this outbreak) may be more due to altered human behaviour,” said WHO’s director of pandemics Sylvie S. Dr Briand said and the epidemic.

Earlier this week, a senior WHO adviser said outbreaks in Europe, the United States, Israel, Australia and elsewhere could be linked to sex in two recent orgies in Spain and Belgium. This marks a dramatic departure from the typical pattern of transmission of the disease in central and western Africa, where people are primarily infected with animals such as wild rodents and primates, and outbreaks have not crossed borders.

Although the WHO says nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported, this seems likely to be an underestimate. Spanish authorities said on Friday that the number of cases there had risen to 98, including a woman whose infection was “directly linked” to a chain of transmission previously limited to men, according to Madrid regional officials.

British officials added 16 monkeypox cases, bringing the UK total to 106. Portugal said its number of cases jumped to 74 on Friday.

Doctors in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the US and elsewhere have noted that so far, most infected people have been gay and bisexual men, or men who have sex with men. The disease is unlikely to affect people because of their sexual orientation, and scientists have warned that the virus could infect others if the spread is not curbed.

The current situation appears to be “manageable” based on the evolution of past disease outbreaks in Africa, WHO’s Brian said.

However, she said the WHO expects to see more cases reported in the future, noting that “we don’t know if we’re just seeing the top of the iceberg[or]if there are more cases going undetected in the community,” she says.

As countries including the U.K., Germany, Canada and the U.S. begin evaluating how to use a smallpox vaccine to contain the outbreak, the WHO said its expert team is evaluating the evidence and will provide guidance soon.

Dr Rosamund Lewis, head of the WHO’s smallpox unit, said “mass vaccination is not necessary”, explaining that monkeypox is not easily transmitted and usually requires skin-to-skin contact to spread. There is no vaccine developed specifically for monkeypox, but the WHO estimates that the smallpox vaccine is about 85 percent effective.

Countries with vaccine supplies could consider offering vaccines to those at high risk of disease, such as close contacts of patients or health workers, but monkeypox can be controlled primarily through contact isolation and ongoing epidemiological investigations, she said.

Given the limited global supply of a smallpox vaccine, WHO emergencies chief Dr Mike Ryan said the agency would work with its member countries to potentially develop a centrally controlled stockpile similar to the one it helped distribute during yellow fever outbreaks , meningitis and cholera in unaffordable countries.

“We’re talking about delivering vaccines for targeted vaccination campaigns and targeted treatments,” Ryan said. “So the numbers don’t necessarily need to be large, but each country may need to get a small amount of the vaccine.”

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more severe disease may develop rashes and lesions on the face and hands that may spread to other parts of the body.

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