LONDON (AP) — The World Health Organization’s top monkeypox expert said she doesn’t expect the hundreds of cases reported so far to turn into another pandemic, but acknowledged that there are still many unknowns about the disease, including exactly how it spreads and whether the suspension of mass smallpox vaccination decades ago could somehow accelerate its transmission.
In a public session on Monday, the WHO’s Dr Rosamund Lewis said it was critical to point out that the vast majority of cases seen in dozens of countries around the world were in gay, bisexual or men with sex with men, so that scientists can study the issue further and for at-risk populations to take precautions.
“It’s very important to describe this because it appears to be an increase in a mode of transmission that may have been underrecognized in the past,” said Lewis, WHO’s technical lead on the monkeypox..
Still, she warned that anyone was at potential risk of contracting the disease, regardless of sexual orientation. Other experts have pointed out that it could be accidental that the disease was first detected in gay and bisexual men, saying it could quickly spread to other groups if left unchecked. To date, the WHO said 23 countries that have never had monkeypox have reported more than 250 cases.
Lewis said it was unclear whether monkeypox was transmitted through sex or simply through close contact between people engaging in sexual activity and described the threat to the general population as “low”.
“It is not yet known whether this virus is exploiting a new mode of transmission, but what is clear is that it continues to exploit its well-known mode of transmission, which is close physical contact,” Lewis said. . Monkeypox is known to spread when there is close physical contact with an infected person or their clothing or bedding.
She also warned that among the current cases, there is a higher proportion of people with fewer lesions that are more concentrated in the genital area and sometimes almost impossible to see.
“You can have these lesions for two to four weeks (and) they may not be visible to others, but you can still be contagious,” she said.
Last week, a top WHO adviser said the outbreak in Europe, the US, Israel, Australia and beyond was likely gender-linked at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium. This marks a significant departure from the typical pattern of disease spread in West and Central Africa.where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates, and where outbreaks have not spread across borders.
Most patients with monkeypox only experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more severe illness may develop a rash and sores on the face and hands that may spread to other parts of the body. No deaths have been reported in the current outbreak.
Lewis of the WHO also said that while previous cases of monkeypox in West and Central Africa have been relatively contained, it was unclear if people could spread monkeypox without symptoms or if the disease could be airborne. like measles or COVID-19.
Monkeypox is related to smallpox, but has milder symptoms. After smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980, countries suspended mass vaccination programs, a move some experts say could contribute to the spread of monkeypox, as there is now little widespread immunity. against related diseases; smallpox vaccines also protect against monkeypox.
Lewis said he would be ‘unfortunate’ if monkeypox was able to ‘exploit the immune gap’ left by smallpox 40 years ago, saying there was still a window of opportunity to end to the epidemic so that monkeypox does not take root in new areas. .