The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said that the current Monkeypox outbreak is "controllable" and added that it's working towards creating a stockpile of vaccines and medicines for targeted distribution in affected areas, similar to WHO's distribution during outbreaks of yellow fever, meningitis, and cholera.
The WHO also confirmed there is no evidence so far that any genetic changes in the virus are responsible for the unprecedented outbreak.
Nearly 200 Monkeypox infections have been reported in over 20 countries not usually known to have outbreaks of the disease. Spain alone has reported almost half of all the world's cases with 98 infections by Friday.
"The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is not different from the strains we can find in endemic countries and (this outbreak) is probably due more to a change in human behaviour," said Dr Sylvie Briand, WHO's director of pandemic and epidemic diseases.
Earlier this week, a top adviser to WHO told AP that the outbreak in Europe, US, Israel, Australia, and beyond was likely linked to sex at two recent sex rave parties in Spain and Belgium. That marks a significant departure from the disease's typical pattern of spread in Central and Western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates, and outbreaks have not spilled across borders.
On Friday, Spanish authorities said the number of cases there had risen to 98, including one woman, whose infection is “directly related” to a chain of transmission that had been previously limited to men, according to officials in the region of Madrid.
Doctors in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the US, and elsewhere have noted that the majority of infections so far have been in gay and bisexual men, or men who have sex with men. The disease is no more likely to affect people because of their sexual orientation and scientists warn the virus could infect others if transmission is not curbed.
WHO's Briand, quoted earlier in the story, said that based on how past outbreaks of the disease in Africa have evolved, the current situation appeared "containable".
Still, she said WHO expected to see more cases reported in the future. She said, "We don't know if we are just seeing the peak of the iceberg [or] if there are many more cases that are undetected in communities."
Countries such as the UK, Germany, Canada, and the US are evaluating how Smallpox vaccines might be used to curb the Monkeypox outbreak, WHO said its expert group was assessing the evidence and would provide guidance soon.
Dr Rosamund Lewis, head of WHO's smallpox department, said, “There is no need for mass vaccination.”
Lewis explaining that Monkeypox does not spread easily and typically requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission. No vaccines have been specifically developed against Monkeypox, but WHO estimates that Smallpox vaccines are about 85 per cent effective.
She said countries with vaccine supplies could consider them for those at high risk of the disease, like close contacts of patients or health workers, but that Monkeypox could mostly be controlled by isolating contacts and continued epidemiological investigations.
Given the limited global supply of Smallpox vaccines, WHO's emergencies chief Dr Mike Ryan said the agency would be working with its member countries to potentially develop a centrally controlled stockpile, similar to the ones it has helped manage to distribute during outbreaks of yellow fever, meningitis, and cholera in countries that can't afford them.
Ryan said, "We are talking about providing vaccines for a targeted vaccination campaign, for targeted therapeutics. So the volumes don't necessarily need to be big, but every country may need access to a small amount of vaccine."
Most Monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.
(With AP inputs)