Spain reported Saturday a second death in as many days from monkeypox. These are believed to be the first confirmed fatalities from the disease in Europe since its recent spread beyond Africa.
The ministry based in Madrid said both fatalities were young men. It reported its first death on Friday, the same day that Brazil also reported its first death from monkeypox. The global monkeypox outbreak has seen more than 22,000 cases in nearly 80 countries since May. There have been 75 suspected deaths in Africa, mostly in Nigeria and Congo, where a more lethal form of monkeypox is spreading than in the West.
In the US and Europe, the vast majority of monkeypox infections have happened in men who have sex with men, though health officials have stressed that anyone can catch the virus. The deaths outside Africa come one week after the World Health Organisation declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.
“The notification of deaths due to monkeypox does not change our assessment of the outbreak in Europe. We know that although the disease is self-limiting in most cases, monkeypox can cause severe complications,” said Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO Europe. “With the continued spread of monkeypox in Europe, we will expect to see more deaths. Our goal needs to be on interrupting transmission quickly in Europe and stopping this outbreak,” she said.
On Friday, Spain's health ministry reported that 4,298 people were infected with the virus, making it the leading European country for monkeypox cases. Of that total, some 3,500 cases were of men who had had sex with other men. Only 64 were women. The ministry said 120 have needed hospital attention. Smallwood said around 8% of the monkeypox cases in Europe have required hospitalization.
Monkeypox has been endemic to parts of Africa for decades. Its leap to Europe and North America was linked by experts to two raves in Belgium and Spain. Spanish health authorities are administering 5,300 vaccines that Spain received from the joint EU vaccine purchase scheme. Health workers say that's far fewer than the number needed to cover the at-risk groups. But the rush to buy limited vaccines by richer Western countries is putting Africa in danger of being left out.
Monkeypox spreads mainly through skin-to-skin contact, but it can also be transmitted through bed sheets used by someone with monkeypox. Symptoms include fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, and hives. The illness has been relatively mild in many men. But people can be contagious for weeks, and the lesions can be extremely painful.