The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday (25/4) said that monkeypox outbreaks that have been reported in 16 countries and several regions of the world can still be contained, and the overall risk of transmission is low.
Head of the Secretariat for Smallpox Affairs at the WHO Emergency Program Dr. Rosamund Lewis said the mode of transmission of this outbreak was containable “and it is the goal of WHO and member states to contain this outbreak and stop it.”
He added, “the risk to the general population seems low because we know the main modes of transmission as previously described (through skin-to-skin contact, oral or respiratory fluids and contaminated bedding.ed).”
The latest data from WHO member states as of May 22 shows “more than 250 confirmed cases, and suspected cases of monkeypox were reported in 16 countries and several WHO regions.”
The symptoms of monkeypox are very similar to those experienced by ordinary smallpox patients, although clinically it is not as severe as ordinary smallpox. Visually, monkeypox looks dramatic with increasing pustules and fever that lasts for 2-4 weeks.
According to the WHO, monkeypox outbreaks are transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact, although it can also be transmitted through oral or respiratory fluids and contaminated bedding. The incubation period for monkeypox is usually between 6-13 days, but can range from 5-21 days as well.
“We (WHO) do not yet have information whether monkeypox is transmitted through body fluids,” said Dr. Lewis, and urged groups at risk of infection to “be careful” when in close contact with other people.
WHO emphasized that although most cases of monkeypox transmission were associated with men who have sex with men, citizens should not stigmatize those who fall ill with this monkeypox virus.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Dr. Lewis said “this disease can affect anyone, and is not associated with any particular group of people.”
He stressed that what is unusual about this monkeypox outbreak is that “countries that reported monkeypox were countries that had not previously had this outbreak. There are some countries where the disease is endemic, such as the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Kong, Nigeria and Cameroon which are reporting current cases, and there are other countries that have reported similar cases in the past.”
Although in the past smallpox vaccination provided protection against monkeypox, people under the age of 40 or 50 today may be more susceptible to monkeypox infection because the worldwide smallpox vaccination campaign ended after the disease was eradicated in 1980.
Member countries have previously asked WHO to keep stock of smallpox vaccine in anticipation of new outbreaks in the future, but Dr. Lewis said “it’s been 40 years and the stock probably needs updating, it needs to be reviewed, and the WHO has done that.”
There are two variants of the monkeypox virus: West African and Central African. The first human case of monkeypox was identified in a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970, and although the name monkeypox comes from the discovery of the virus in monkeys in a Danish laboratory in 1958, the naming is somewhat misleading, said Dr. Lewis. [em/jm]
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