The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebreius warned on Wednesday that a window containing the global monkey pox epidemic could narrow.
“The risk of monkey disease in non-endemic countries is real,” he said at a briefing in Geneva.
Since the beginning of May, the WHO has confirmed more than 1,000 monkey diseases in 29 countries outside West and Central Africa, where the virus is endemic.
If epidemics are not contained and the virus begins to spread to new areas, it can boil over indefinitely at low levels. It can also lead to epidemics in some places, which can make a large number of people sick in a short period of time.
Amira Albert Ross, a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, said, “As you move into the future and as more and more people become infected, you start to worry.” “Is it going to be something that can be passed from person to person, and then we can’t control it?”
Several epidemics around the world are turning into pandemics. But experts are not betting on that conclusion – WHO leaders and disease experts say it’s not too late to reverse the trend.
“People at the highest risk now still have a window of opportunity to prevent the spread of smallpox,” he said. Rosamund Lewis, WHO Technical Director for Monkey Diseases, said at a briefing.
Both smallpox vaccines – both approved by the Food and Drug Administration – can be the key to prevention. The U.S. government has approved a drug called “Jinneos” for use against smallpox in monkeys.
“It’s one of the rare diseases where someone can be vaccinated and blocked before someone has an infection before they have symptoms,” said Eric Toner, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Health Center.
“We really need to break things down so we can’t catch it,” he added.
Can smallpox become endemic in new countries?
Throughout history, apes have not been easily transmitted from person to person. The largest epidemic in the Western Hemisphere in 2003 was a cluster of 47 cases of smallpox in the United States. All of the infected were in contact with sick field dogs.
In the current epidemic, the main driver of infection is skin-to-skin contact between people, often affecting rashes or ulcers in infected people.
“Currently, the virus could become endemic because we are human-to-human and unable to stop the cycle of infection,” Ross said.
Several factors are involved in this cycle. First, smallpox is difficult to diagnose in monkeys. Patients develop rashes that can be confused with chickenpox, syphilis, or herpes, but in some cases it can be found only in the genital area, making it difficult to diagnose.
Second, disease experts fear that the United States is failing to run tests to detect new cases in a timely manner.
“It still takes a few days from someone being identified to confirming their diagnosis,” Ross said.
Dr. Stuart Isaacs, an associate professor of medical sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, said the virus could have “epidemic potential” in the United States – the risk could rise if more than one infected person infects several people. in average. This has not happened before, and the United States has registered less than 40 cases so far.
“It’s too early to say for sure [outbreak] The probability is still very low, but it will not explode, ”said Isaacs.
“This is because it is endemic in Africa because there are reservoirs of animals there,” he added. “The virus spreads and spreads among animals, and then occasionally jumps on humans or non-human primates.”
Controversy over declaring smallpox a pandemic
In the past, Ross said, African countries quickly stopped the spread of the ape disease by testing and searching for connections, but the current epidemic is unprecedentedly large and widespread.
Experts do not yet know whether its scale indicates that aphids have evolved to improve human-to-human transmission, or whether countries are revealing the scale of an epidemic that has been unnoticed for some time.
The smallpox epidemic may meet the formal definition of a pandemic: the virus is spreading from person to person in at least two countries, and there are community-wide epidemics in several parts of the world.
“But in general, when we talk about a pandemic, we’re talking about diseases that threaten every country or almost every country,” Toner said. “I haven’t reached that limit yet and I think it never will.”
Ross said the unfinished Kovid-19 pandemic would deter world health leaders from declaring a state of emergency.
“There is a lot of reluctance to declare this a pandemic,” he said.
The reason for optimism is that this version of monkeys is usually not life-threatening. Although smallpox can cause pain and scarring, doctors say they know how to treat smallpox with antiviral drugs and supportive supplies. No deaths have been reported in non-endemic countries.
“We need to pick up the bells, study it, and understand it,” Isaacs said. “But we’re not in a panic yet.”