The World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with European countries where cases of the rare viral disease monkeypox have been reported, the UN agency said on Friday.
Monkeypox occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa, but outbreaks have emerged in other parts of the world in recent days. Symptoms include fever, rash, and swollen lymph nodes.
More than 100 cases have been detected across Europe, according to media reports, and WHO said at least eight countries are affected – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
No travel link
Hans Kluge, Regional Director for the UN agency, said the cases are atypical, citing three reasons.
All but one, are not linked to travel to endemic countries. Many were detected through sexual health services and are among men who have sex with men. Furthermore, it is suspected that transmission may have been ongoing for some time, as the cases are geographically dispersed across Europe and beyond.
Most of the cases are so far mild, he added.
“Monkeypox is usually a self-limiting illness, and most of those infected will recover within a few weeks without treatment,” said Dr. Kluge. “However, the disease can be more severe, especially in young children, pregnant women, and individuals who are immunocompromised.”
Working to limit transmission
WHO is working with the concerned countries, including to determine the likely source of infection, how the virus is spreading, and how to limit further transmission.
Countries are also receiving guidance and support on surveillance, testing, infection prevention and control, clinical management, risk communication and community engagement.
Concern over summer uptick
Monkeypox virus is mostly transmitted to humans from wild animals such as rodents and primates. It is also spread between humans during close contact – through infected skin lesions, exhaled droplets or body fluids, including sexual contact – or through contact with contaminated materials such as bedding.
People suspected of having the disease should be checked and isolated.
“As we enter the summer season in the European Region, with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission could accelerate, as the cases currently being detected are among those engaging in sexual activity, and the symptoms are unfamiliar to many,” said Dr. Kluge.
He added that handwashing, as well as other measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, are also critical to reduce transmission in healthcare settings.
Cases in other regions
Australia, Canada, and the United States are also among non-endemic countries that have reported cases of monkeypox.
The US detected its first case for the year after a man in the northeastern state of Massachusetts tested positive on Tuesday following recent travel to Canada.
Health authorities in New York City, home to UN Headquarters, are also investigating a possible case after a patient at a hospital in Manhattan tested positive on Thursday.
The US recorded two monkeypox cases in 2021, both related to travel from Nigeria.