The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is too early to tell whether the current monkeypox outbreak could turn into a pandemic.
However it downplayed the scenario saying there is now a ‘window of opportunity’ to contain it.
More than 300 suspected and confirmed cases of monkeypox – a usually mild illness that is spread by close contact and can cause flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin sores – have been reported in May, mostly in Europe and North America. .
The virus is not commonly found outside of central and western Africa, where the disease is endemic, raising the possibility of community transmission.
Scientists have been left puzzled by the unusual spread, which experts say is not linked to the trip to Africa.
Asked whether the outbreak could turn into a pandemic, WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, Rosamund Lewis, said: ‘The answer is we don’t know, but we don’t think so.’
The WHO said the majority of cases have been reported in men who identify as gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men.
Dr Lewis said it was important to describe it because it appears to be an increase in a mode of transmission that may have been less recognized in the past.
She told the briefing: ‘At the moment, we are not worried about a global pandemic.
‘We are concerned that if individuals do not have the necessary information to protect themselves, they may acquire this infection through high-risk exposure.’
Dr Lewis cautions that anyone is at potential risk of the disease, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Other experts have pointed out that it may be coincidental that the disease was first picked up in gay and bisexual men, adding that it could quickly spread to other groups if it was not stopped.
It is still unclear whether monkeypox is transmitted by sex or simply by close contact between people who have intercourse.
Dr Lewis gave recommendations for people to reduce their risk of infection, including avoiding confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox and – if caring for someone with the disease, avoiding skin-to-skin contact, washing hands regularly, Including wearing a mask and cleaning. contaminated surfaces.
“Collectively, the world has an opportunity to contain this outbreak,” Lewis said.
‘There is a window of opportunity where it can be contained.’
A small proportion of people infected are believed to die from the virus strain involved in the outbreak, but no deaths have been reported so far.
Dr Lewis said that while previous cases of monkeypox in central and western Africa have been relatively controlled, it was not clear whether people could spread monkeypox without symptoms, or whether the disease could be transmitted through the air, such as measles or COVID-19. 19.
Once monkeypox has been contracted, the period of emergence of the rash and the fall of the scab is recognized as the contagious period, but there is limited information about whether the virus has been transmitted by people who are symptomatic. No, she said.
On Sunday, the WHO upgraded the threat from the virus to ‘moderate’, saying the ‘sudden presence’ and ‘wide geographic scope’ suggest widespread human transmission of the virus.
It warned that an increase in infections suggests the virus has been “circulating undetected for several weeks or more” and that there is a “high risk” of further spread.
The global health body is now considering whether the outbreak should be assessed as a ‘potential public health emergency of international concern’ or PHEIC. Such an announcement, as was made for COVID and Ebola, would help accelerate research and funding to prevent the disease.
However, the WHO stressed that the virus should not be mistaken for COVID-19 and that the risk to the general public remains low.
“We don’t want people to panic or panic and think it’s like COVID or maybe even worse,” Sylvie Bryand, WHO’s director of pandemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said during a briefing on the outbreak.
‘This monkeypox disease is not Kovid-19, it is a different virus.’
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