The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for ‘urgent’ action to prevent the spread of monkeypox in Europe, noting that cases had tripled there over the past two weeks.
To date, more than 5,000 monkeypox cases have been reported from 51 countries worldwide, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Infections in Europe represent about 90 percent of the global total of cases, and 31 countries in the European region have now identified cases, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri Kluge said on Friday.
“Today, I am intensifying my call for governments and civil society to scale up efforts … to prevent monkeypox from establishing itself across a growing geographical area,” Kluge said in a statement.
“Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” Kluge said.
Kluge also said in his statement that there are no reported deaths from the current outbreak so far.
“The vast majority of cases have presented with a rash and about three-quarters have reported systemic symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, chills, sore throat or headache,” Kluge said.
Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.
‘No room for complacency’
Kluge said that Europe remains at the centre of the expanding outbreak and the risk remains high.
“There is simply no room for complacency, especially right here in the European Region with its fast-moving outbreak that with every hour, day and week is extending its reach into previously unaffected areas,” he said.
The WHO does not think the outbreak currently constitutes a public health emergency of international concern but will review its position shortly, he added.
The UN agency estimates that the disease can be fatal, but smallpox vaccines are protective and some antiviral drugs are also being developed.
To date, there have been about 1,800 suspected monkeypox cases including more than 70 deaths in Africa. Vaccines have never been used to stop monkeypox outbreaks in Africa. The WHO’s Africa office said this week that countries with vaccine supplies “are mainly reserving them for their own populations”.
Most monkeypox infections so far have been observed in young men who have sex with men, chiefly in urban areas, according to the WHO. It is investigating cases of possible sexual transmission but maintains the disease is primarily spread through close contact.
Kluge said the problem of stigmatisation in some countries might make some people wary of seeking healthcare and said the WHO was working with partners including organisers of gay Pride events.