Monkeypox virus disease outbreak: New cases 'only tip of iceberg' but no urgent need for mass vaccinations, says WHO
The global health body does not believe that the spread of the monkeypox virus outside of Africa requires mass vaccinations as measures like good hygiene and safe sexual behaviour will help control its spread.
As the number of monkeypox cases continues to rise across Europe and North America, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the recent outbreak of the viral disease is "only the tip of the iceberg". The global health body, however, does not believe that the spread of the monkeypox virus outside of Africa requires mass vaccinations as measures like good hygiene and safe sexual behaviour will help control its spread, a WHO senior official told Reuters on Monday (May 23, 2022).
"The primary measures to control the (monkeypox) outbreak are contact tracing and isolation," Reuters quoted Richard Pebody, who leads the high-threat pathogen team at WHO Europe, as saying.
Pebody also told Reuters in an interview that immediate supplies of vaccines and antivirals are relatively limited.
His comments came amid the public health authorities in Europe and North America investigating more than 100 suspected and confirmed cases of the viral infection in the worst outbreak of the virus outside of Africa, where it is endemic.
While the US has said that it is in the process of releasing some Jynneos vaccine doses for use in monkeypox cases, Germany has said that it is assessing options for vaccinations. Britain, where the first European case was confirmed on May 7 in an individual who returned to England from Nigeria, has already started to offer a smallpox vaccine to some healthcare workers and others who may have been exposed to the monkeypox virus.
Monkeypox not a virus that spreads very easily
Pebody noted that monkeypox is not a virus that spreads very easily, nor has it so far caused serious disease. The vaccines used to combat monkeypox can have some significant side effects, the WHO official added.
Most of the confirmed cases have not been linked to travel to Africa, which suggests there may be large amounts of undetected cases, Pebody said.
"So we're only seeing ... the tip of the iceberg," he warned.
There is no evidence that the monkeypox virus has mutated, Reuters reported citing another senior official at WHO.
It, however, is unclear what is driving the monkeypox disease outbreak, with scientists trying to understand the origin of the cases and whether anything about the virus has changed.
What is monkeypox disease?
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox. It was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys kept for research and the first human case of monkeypox was reported in 1970. The disease occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa.
The virus belongs to the family Poxviridae, which also includes the viruses causing smallpox and cowpox disease.
How does monkeypox virus spread?
Monkeypox is transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal, or with material contaminated with the virus. It reportedly is spread by rodents such as rats, mice, and squirrels.
The monkeypox disease is transmitted through lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets, and contaminated materials such as bedding.
Health officials have also noted that some of these infections may be transmitted through sexual contact. The WHO said it was also investigating many cases being of people identifying as gay or bisexual.
The virus, however, is said to be less contagious than smallpox and causes less severe illness.
What are symptoms of monkeypox?
Monkeypox typically presents itself with fever, rash, and swollen lymph nodes and may lead to a range of medical complications. The disease is usually self-limiting with the symptoms lasting from two to four weeks. Severe cases can also occur. In recent times, the case fatality ratio has reportedly been around 3-6 per cent but can be up to 10 per cent. There are no reported deaths in this current spread.
How are monkeypox treated?
Vaccines used during the smallpox eradication programme also provided protection against monkeypox. Newer vaccines have been developed of which one has been approved for prevention of the disease. An antiviral agent developed for the treatment of smallpox has also been licensed for the treatment of monkeypox, according to WHO.
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