As monkeypox continues to emerge around the world, the World Health Organization has called on the group currently most affected by the virus – men who have sex with men – to limit their sexual partners.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who last Saturday declared monkeypox a global health emergency, told reporters that the best way to protect against infection is to “reduce the risk of transmission.”
“For men who have sex with men, this includes sharing contact information with all new partners to reduce the number of sexual partners to date, reconsider sex with new partners and follow-up as necessary,” he said on Wednesday. .
Since the beginning of May, an increase in monkeypox infections has been recorded outside the countries of West and Central Africa, where the disease is endemic.
Tedros told the World Health Organization on Wednesday that more than 18,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 78 countries, with 70 percent in Europe and 25 percent in the Americas.
Five deaths have been reported since May, and about 10 percent of those infected have been hospitalized for treatment, he said.
“Anyone” can get monkeypox
About 98 percent occurred in men who had sex with men.
According to a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, 98 percent of those infected were gay or bisexual men, and 95 percent were sexually transmitted.
But experts say transmission of the disease that causes the blistering rash occurs mostly during close, physical contact, and monkeypox is not yet known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Experts also cautioned against thinking that the disease could affect only the public, stressing that it can be spread through regular skin-to-skin contact, as well as droplets or touching bedding or towels at home.
“Anyone can get monkeypox,” Tedros said, urging other vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women and those on immunosuppressants, to “take steps” to reduce the risk of transmission.
The WHO has repeatedly warned against the stigma surrounding the disease, which can prevent those infected from seeking treatment.
“Stigma and discrimination are dangerous like any virus and can fuel an epidemic,” Tedros said.
Andy Seale, of the WHO’s program on sexually transmitted infections, emphasized that messages about the need for gay and bisexual men to reduce the number of sexual partners come from “the community itself”.
But he said it was “a short-term statement because we hope the outbreak will certainly be short-lived.”
He stressed the need to take other measures to reduce the number of cases, including spreading information about observable symptoms and the need for rapid isolation, and access to tests and medicines.
No mass vaccination
The World Health Organization also recommends targeted vaccination of people with monkeypox or those at high risk of exposure, including healthcare workers and people with multiple sexual partners.
“At this time, we do not recommend mass vaccination against monkeys,” Tedros said.
Vaccines initially developed against smallpox — a cousin of monkeypox that was eradicated more than four decades ago — were found to protect against the virus, but supplies were lacking.
Tedros also emphasized that “vaccination does not immediately protect against infection or disease and may take weeks.”
As for supplies, he said Danish drugmaker Bavarian Nordic had about 16 million doses of the major challenge vaccine, but most were in bulk.
“It will take months to complete and fill them into ready-to-use vials,” he said, urging countries that supply the doses to share.
“We must ensure equal access to vaccines for all people and communities affected by monkeypox in all countries, in all regions.”