Monkeypox cases are being investigated in Europe, the US, Canada and Australia after a recent spike in infections.
Jepayona Delita | Future Publishing | Getty Images
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that a recent outbreak of monkeypox cases in non-endemic countries is “containable” even if it continues to baffle health experts.
According to the public health agency, as of Tuesday there have been 131 confirmed cases and 106 suspected cases of the disease since the first was reported on May 7. The cases are reportedly in 19 countries outside of Africa.
The WHO said it was currently unclear whether the spike in cases was the “tip of the iceberg” or whether a peak in transmission had already been reached.
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection endemic to Central and West Africa. It spreads through close contact with people, animals, or material infected with the virus, with symptoms such as a rash, fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling, and back pain.
While most cases are mild and usually resolve within two to four weeks, health experts have been stunned by the recent spike in countries with no history of the disease and patients without travel links to endemic countries.
Western cases are increasing, mostly through sex
At least 19 countries including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain and Portugal have reported cases so far. Belgium – currently home to four cases – became the first country on Friday to introduce mandatory isolation for patients, while the UK pushed close contacts of patients to sell the isolation.
The majority of cases are spread through sex, the WHO said on Monday. Although not generally considered a sexually transmitted disease, health authorities have identified a particular concentration of cases among men who have sex with other men.
A section of skin tissue taken from a lesion on the skin of a monkey infected with the monkeypox virus is seen at 50x magnification on the fourth day of the rash’s development in 1968.
CDC | Reuters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday warned gay and bisexual men to take precautions if they’ve been in close contact with someone who may have the virus and to be on the lookout for symptoms.
“A significant proportion of recent cases in the UK and Europe have been found in gay and bisexual men, so we particularly encourage these men to be vigilant for the symptoms,” added Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser at the UK Health Authority, on Monday.
Mutation of monkeypox strain unlikely
Sylvie Briand, WHO director for global preparedness for threats of infection, said on Tuesday the virus was unlikely to have mutated. Rather, she said, transmission may be due to a change in human behavior, particularly as a result of the easing of Covid-19 social restrictions.
The West African strain of monkeypox – identified in the current outbreak – has a mortality rate of about 1%.
“We encourage you all to step up surveillance for monkeypox to see where transmission rates are and understand where they’re going,” Briand added.
Jeremy Farrer, director of global health organization Wellcome, told CNBC on Monday that the recent outbreak was atypical for the monkeypox virus.
“We’ve never had one [monkeypox] epidemic that has now spread to 15 countries in three weeks,” Farrer said at the World Economic Forum.
However, he added that this should not yet be a cause for public concern, noting it is not yet a “Covid-style risk”.
“That’s not the same as saying that public health people shouldn’t worry. It is not the same as saying that we must not act quickly. But is it a big risk to the public? No, I don’t think that’s it today.”