According to an infectious disease epidemiologist, there are concerns that the United States and other countries are not doing enough to prevent monkeypox from becoming a large-scale global epidemic.
Over the weekend, the World Health Organization activated the highest level of the virus and declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.
The rare sign means the WHO is now treating the outbreak as a serious threat to global health, requiring a sufficiently coordinated international response to prevent the virus from becoming a pandemic.
“This is a unique epidemic, we know this virus, but it is causing a very large epidemic in several countries of the world. In fact, if we look at the number of cases, the United States is behind Spain. houses,” Dr. Sira Madad, senior director of the Special Pathogens Program at New York City Health + Hospitals, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.
“This is not an epidemic to be taken lightly. Indeed, it is a big concern that it will become an established virus in the United States, as well as in other countries where this virus is not endemic,” he added.
“This is really unacceptable,” Madad said, especially in the wake of the Covid pandemic, where countries are struggling to contain the spread of monkeypox.
“Taking all the lessons we’ve learned with Covid-19, we shouldn’t be dealing with an epidemic of this magnitude and we’re not doing enough to prevent it from becoming endemic,” he added.
Although the WHO declaration does not impose requirements on national governments, it serves as an urgent call to action.
Cases of the virus are increasing
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monkeypox can be spread through respiratory droplets after prolonged face-to-face contact or intimate physical contact. The virus can also be spread through contact with bodily fluids, skin lesions, and contaminated items such as bedding and clothing.
More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 70 countries so far this year, and the number of confirmed infections rose 77% between late June and early July, according to the World Health Organization.
According to Madad, although men who have sex with men are currently at higher risk of infection, the virus is beginning to spread to the wider community.
“For example, in the United States, two children were infected through a household from a person with monkeypox. As infections increase in the community, these cases may begin to increase over a period of time,” he said.
The World Health Organization on Monday warned against complacency surrounding the epidemic, saying there was no guarantee the virus would continue to spread specifically within communities.
Although the cases are mostly concentrated in the gay and bisexual communities, the UN health agency said there is little evidence that the disease is limited to those groups.
On the contrary, their early detection can lead to widespread epidemics.
US vaccine problems
According to Madad, the best way to break the chain of transmission is to vaccinate people who are at risk and exposed to monkeypox. He noted that access to vaccines is an issue, especially in the United States
On Friday, a senior White House official said President Joe Biden was considering a public health emergency in response to an outbreak of monkeypox. Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s co-ordinator of the Covid response, said the administration was considering how the declaration of a public health emergency would strengthen the US response to the outbreak.
The US has so far reported more than 2,500 monkeypox cases in 44 states, Washington and Puerto Rico, according to the CDC.
“Vaccines are being rolled out to regions, cities and states. By the end of this year, we’ll have about 1.6 million by the end of 2023 or mid-2023 — we’ll have millions of doses,” Madad said.
“But the problem here is that it’s not enough,” he added, adding that demand is currently outstripping supply. “We really need to get ahead of this epidemic.”
— CNBC’s Spencer Kimball contributed to the report.