The World Health Organisation on Friday said that it held an emergency meeting following the recent outbreak of monkeypox, a viral infection more common in the West and Central Africa. Over 100 cases have now been suspected in Europe. Scientists who have monitored numerous outbreaks of monkeypox in Africa say they are baffled by the disease’s recent spread in Europe and North America.
According to reports, the WHO committee that held the meeting to discuss the issue is the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential (STAG-IH), which advices on infection risks that could pose a global health threat.
What is Monkey Pox?
Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates and occasionally jumps to people. Most human cases have been in central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic.
The illness was first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys — thus the name monkeypox. The first known human infection was in 1970, in a 9-year-old boy in a remote part of Congo.
What is WHO saying along with other medical experts?
There are about 80 confirmed cases worldwide and 50 more suspected ones, the World Health Organization said. France, Germany, Belgium and Australia reported their first cases Friday.
“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several WHO advisory boards.
“This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he said."
To date, no one has died in the outbreak. Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals. WHO estimates the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people, but smallpox vaccines are protective and some antiviral drugs are being developed.
Nigeria reports about 3,000 monkeypox cases a year, WHO said. Outbreaks are usually in rural areas when people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels.
WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, described the outbreak as “atypical,” saying the disease’s appearance in so many countries across the continent suggested that “transmission has been ongoing for some time.” He said most of the European cases are mild.
Is Monkey Pox sexually transmitted?
On Friday, Britain’s Health Security Agency reported 11 new monkeypox cases, saying “a notable proportion” of the infections in the U.K. and Europe have been in young men with no history of travel to Africa and who were gay, or bisexual or had sex with men.
Authorities in Spain and Portugal also said their cases were in young men who mostly had sex with other men and said those cases were picked up when the men turned up with lesions at sexual health clinics.
Experts have stressed they do not know if the disease is being spread through sex or other close contact related to sex.
Nigeria hasn’t seen sexual transmission, Tomori said, but he noted that viruses that hadn’t initially been known to transmit via sex, like Ebola, were later proven to do so after bigger epidemics showed different patterns of spread. The same could be true of monkeypox, Tomori said.
(with AP inputs)