LONDON (AP) — The World Health Organization says nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries that typically don’t have outbreaks of the unusual disease, but it has described the epidemic as “containable” and has proposed creating a reserve to share equally. the limited vaccines and drugs available around the world.
During a public briefing on Friday, the UN health agency said there are still many unanswered questions about what triggered the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa, but there is no evidence that genetic changes in the virus be responsible.
“The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is no different from the strains that we can find in endemic countries and (this outbreak) is probably due more to a change in human behavior,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of pandemic of the WHO. and epidemic diseases.
Earlier this week, a top adviser to the WHO said the outbreak in Europe, the US, Israel, Australia and beyond was likely linked to sex at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium. That marks a significant departure from the typical pattern of disease spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals such as rodents and wild primates, and outbreaks have not spread across borders.
Although the WHO said nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported, that seemed an undercount. On Friday, Spanish authorities said the number of cases had risen to 98, including a woman, whose infection is “directly related” to a chain of transmission previously limited to men, according to officials in the Madrid region.
UK officials added 16 more cases to their monkeypox tally, bringing Britain’s total to 106, while Portugal said its case number rose to 74 cases. And authorities in Argentina reported a case of monkeypox in a man from Buenos Aires on Friday, marking the first infection in Latin America. Authorities said the man had recently traveled to Spain and now had symptoms consistent with monkeypox, including lesions and a fever.
Doctors in Britain, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the US and elsewhere have noted that most infections to date have been in gay and bisexual men, or men who have sex with men. People are not more likely to be affected by the disease because of their sexual orientation, and scientists warn that the virus could infect others if transmission is not curbed.
The WHO’s Briand said that based on the evolution of previous outbreaks of the disease in Africa, the current situation seemed “containable”.
Still, he said the WHO hoped to see more cases reported in the future, noting “we don’t know if we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg (or) if there are a lot more cases going undetected in communities,” he said. .
As countries including Britain, Germany, Canada and the US begin to assess how smallpox vaccines could be used to stop the outbreak, the WHO said its group of experts was evaluating the evidence and would provide guidance soon.
Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of the WHO’s smallpox department, said “there is no need for mass vaccination,” explaining that monkeypox does not spread easily and usually requires skin-to-skin contact to kill. the broadcast. No vaccines have been developed specifically against monkeypox, but the WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85% effective.
She said countries with vaccine supplies could consider them for those at high risk of contracting the disease, such as close contacts of patients or health workers, but monkeypox could be controlled mainly by isolating contacts and continuing epidemiological investigations.
Given the limited global supply of smallpox vaccines, WHO emergencies chief Dr Mike Ryan said the agency would be working with its member countries to potentially develop a centrally controlled stockpile, similar to those it has helped distribute during yellow fever outbreaks. meningitis and cholera in countries that cannot afford them.
“We’re talking about providing vaccines for a targeted vaccination campaign, for targeted therapies,” Ryan said. “So the volumes don’t necessarily have to be large, but each country may need access to a small amount of vaccine.”
Most monkeypox patients only experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more severe illnesses may develop rashes and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.
Ashifa Kassam in Madrid and Daniel Politi in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.