WHO says monkeypox outbreak unlikely to lead to pandemic

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A test tube labeled “Monkeypox virus positive” is seen in this illustration taken on May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

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by Natalie Grover

LONDON (Reuters) – The World Health Organization does not believe an outbreak of monkeypox outside Africa will lead to a pandemic, an official said on Monday, adding that it was unclear whether infected people without symptoms could spread the disease.

More than 300 suspected and confirmed cases of monkeypox — a mild illness usually spread through close contact that can cause flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions — were reported in May, mostly in Europe.

WHO is considering whether the outbreak should be assessed as a “potential public health emergency of international concern” or PHEIC. As was done with COVID-19 and Ebola, such a statement would help accelerate research and funding to contain the disease.

Asked if the monkeypox outbreak had the potential to turn into a pandemic, Rosamund Lewis, technical lead for monkeypox in the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said: “We don’t know, but we don’t think so. “

“Right now, we’re not worried about a global pandemic,” she said.

She added that once infected with monkeypox, the duration of the appearance of the rash and the shedding of scabs is considered the infectious period, but there is limited information on whether the virus is spread by asymptomatic people.

“We don’t actually know yet whether there is asymptomatic monkeypox transmission — past indications suggest it’s not a dominant feature — but that remains to be determined,” she said.

The strains linked to the outbreak are understood to have killed a small percentage of those infected, but no deaths have been reported so far.

Most cases are in Europe, not the central and west African countries where the virus is endemic, and are largely unrelated to travel.

So scientists are studying how to explain this unusual surge in cases, which public health authorities suspect of some degree of community transmission.

Some countries have already started offering vaccines to close contacts of confirmed cases.

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