Monkey pox can spread beyond men, gays, and bisexuals

The World Health Organization on Monday warned against ignoring the rapid spread of monkeypox, saying there was no guarantee the virus would continue to spread in certain communities.

According to the UN Health Agency, although cases are concentrated in gay and bisexual communities, there is little evidence that the disease remains confined to those groups.

On the contrary, their early detection can lead to widespread epidemics.

“Currently, it is mostly registered among men who have sex with men, but we should not expect it to remain so,” said Dr. Catherine Smallwood, WHO’s senior emergency officer, told CNBC’s “Street Signs in Europe.”

“This could really be the canary in the mine, alerting us to new disease threats.

Dr. Katherine Smallwood

A senior emergency worker at the World Health Organization

It’s not uncommon for an outbreak to start in a specific group or before it spreads to the general population, Smallwood said, noting that health authorities can take cues from early findings.

“This could really be a canary in the mine, alerting us to the threat of a new disease that could spread to other groups,” he continued.

A global health emergency

The World Health Organization on Saturday activated its highest level of alert for the escalating epidemic, declaring the virus an international emergency.

The rare sign means the WHO now considers the outbreak a serious threat to global health, requiring a sufficiently coordinated international response to prevent the virus from spreading further and becoming a pandemic.

“We have an epidemic that is spreading rapidly around the world through new routes of transmission. We understand very little about it. For all of these reasons, I have designated the global monkeypox epidemic as an international public health emergency.” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, said this.

In July, the World Health Organization activated the highest level of alert for the growing epidemic. 23, the virus declared a public health emergency of international concern.

Holly Adams | Getty Images News | Getty Images

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. Europe will account for more than 80% of confirmed cases in 2022.

Currently, men who have sex with men are considered to be at high risk of infection, with 99% of men and 98% of men who have sex with men outside of Africa this year. However, WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have emphasized that monkeys can be kept regardless of their sexual orientation.

Symptoms of the disease, which is typically endemic to Africa, are generally mild and most patients recover within two to four weeks. Five deaths from the virus have been reported in Africa this year, while no deaths have been reported outside Africa.

Still, Smallwood warned that even more severe cases could emerge if the virus spreads to immunologically vulnerable populations. Young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

“If it spreads to other groups, particularly people who have had monkeypox, we know that some groups are more prone to severe disease, then we could see an increased public health impact,” he said.

More information is needed on the vaccine

There are a number of vaccines and antivirals that have proven effective in treating and preventing the disease caused by monkeypox. Indeed, countries have ramped up vaccination programs for those considered most at risk, with the US and UK among others issuing hundreds of thousands of doses.

However, such vaccines are primarily designed to treat smallpox, and Smallwood said more data is needed to determine their effectiveness as the monkeypox virus continues to spread.

We do not have complete information on how effective and efficient these vaccines are against the monkey.

Dr. Katherine Smallwood

A senior emergency worker at the World Health Organization

“We don’t have complete data on how effective and efficient these vaccines are against monkeypox,” he said.

Smallwood said the World Health Organization’s call to declare a global emergency now focuses more on the outbreak and the resulting research into vaccines and other treatments.

“We need to be able to believe that the range of available and potential countermeasures has been expanded and that we have to be really confident in our use of them,” he added.

Currently, the WHO does not recommend mass vaccination, and the US is currently stockpiling vaccines for people with confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox.

-CNBC’s Spencer Kimball contributed to this report.

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