RT: Maria Van Kerkhove, Head ai Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis at the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks during a press conference on the coronavirus situation at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, January 29, 2020.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters
The World Health Organization said Thursday the monkeypox virus has spread to more than 20 countries and urged nations to step up surveillance of the infectious disease as outbreaks increase.
About 200 confirmed cases and more than 100 suspected cases of monkeypox have been detected outside the countries where they normally circulate, according to Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19. She said more cases of the rare viral disease are likely to be reported as surveillance expands, but added that the recent spread could be contained.
“We expect more cases to be discovered. We call on countries to step up surveillance,” Van Kerkhove said during a Q&A on the global health agency’s social media platforms. “This is a containable situation. It will be difficult, but it is a containable situation in the non-endemic countries,” she said.
Monkeypox has spread across North America and Europe in recent weeks, leading to outbreaks in countries outside of central and west Africa where the virus has been circulating at low levels for the past four decades. A milder West African strain of the virus is driving outbreaks, and most patients recover within weeks. No deaths have been reported so far.
The European Union has confirmed 118 cases of monkeypox, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Spain and Portugal have reported the largest outbreaks in the EU, with 51 and 37 cases respectively. The UK has confirmed 90 cases of the virus, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
In North America, the United States has identified nine cases of monkeypox in seven states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Canadian health officials have confirmed 16 cases of monkeypox, all detected in the province of Quebec.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday some patients in the US have not traveled to countries with active outbreaks, suggesting the virus is spreading domestically. Walensky said the CDC is conducting contact tracing and trying to break transmission chains in the US
Health officials in Europe, the UK and the US said the majority of patients are gay or bisexual men, with many cases spreading the virus through sex. However, officials emphasized that monkeypox can be transmitted to anyone through close physical contact, regardless of sexual orientation. Van Kerkhove said it was important to raise awareness of who is currently at increased risk without stigmatizing anyone.
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease. The virus can spread through any kind of prolonged skin contact with an infected person with a lesion. It can also spread through body fluids, contaminated bedding and clothing, or respiratory droplets when a person has a lesion in their mouth.
The virus usually begins with flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, chills, headache, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. It then develops into body rashes characterized by raised bumps that turn into pus-filled blisters that eventually dry up and fall off.
Van Kerhkove urged healthcare professionals to consider monkeypox as a diagnosis for patients with a rash who present to sexual health clinics, emergency rooms, infectious disease clinics, primary care physicians and dermatologists.
“That doesn’t mean someone with a rash will get monkeypox, but we need to raise awareness of what monkeypox is and isn’t, and we need to make sure countries have the capacity to test and provide the right information,” he said you .