.Monkeypox, an illness that causes skin rash and fever, may spread well beyond communities of gay and bisexual men in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it has already infected people, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
.There is no guarantee that monkeypox will stop at specific communities because WHO warned on Monday that we can’t take the virus’s impact on humans lightly.
.However, the early detection of cases by this group could be a sign of a wider outbreak, according to the U.N. agency.
.A public health emergency of international concern has been declared as a result of the escalating outbreak, according to the WHO.
World Health Organization officials on Monday warned against complacency in the rapidly spreading monkeypox outbreak, saying there was no guarantee the virus would spread within specific communities.
Despite having concentrated within gay and bisexual communities so far, there is little evidence to suggest that HIV will remain confined to those groups.
They could be a harbinger of a wider epidemic if detected early.
At the moment, cases continue to be reported among men who have sex with men for the most part, but we should not expect that to remain as such,” Dr. Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at the WHO.
It is not uncommon for a virus outbreak to start in one particular group or setting before spreading more widely in the general population, Smallwood said, noting that health authorities could take cues from the early findings.
The canary in the coal mine might be alerting us to a new disease threat that could spread to other groups.
A health emergency spanning across the globe
The WHO activated its highest alert level for the escalating outbreak Saturday, declaring it a public health emergency of international concern.
According to the WHO, the outbreak is a significant enough threat to global health that a coordinated international response is needed to prevent the disease from spreading further and possibly escalating into a pandemic.
For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported globally in the last three months, and 77% of cases in Europe were in Europe in late June.
The risk of infection for men who have sex with men is currently deemed to be highest, as 99% of cases have been reported outside of Africa this year among men and 98% among men who have sex with men. It is important to note, however, that monkeypox is a contagious disease and not restricted to the heterosexual community.
Symptom severity ranges largely and often ends with two to four weeks; currently five cases of death have been reported with an infection so far this year.
Smallwood warned, however, that more severe cases may occur if the virus spreads to more immunologically vulnerable populations. Young children, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised are considered especially vulnerable to the virus.
If it spreads to other groups – particularly to people who are susceptible to severe monkeypox disease, which we know some groups are more inclined to have – we could see an increased public health impact.
We need more data on vaccines.
In order to prevent and treat monkeypox, there are many vaccines and antivirals available. Indeed, many countries have started to mobilize vaccination programs for those most at risk, such as the U.S. and the U.K., which have issued hundreds of thousands of doses.
Yet such vaccines, as many Americans know, are designed for use with the smallpox virus, not the monkeypox virus, which requires more data to verify their efficacy as the monkeypox virus continues to spread.
“We don’t have complete information about how effective and efficacious these vaccines will be against monkeypox,”
What Smallwood has observed is that the WHO’s declaration that the crisis is a global health emergency will raise more awareness and with that research on prevention, including vaccines and treatments.
We need to have assurance that the methods of defending against disease are being beefed up and we know enough about them to feel confident in their use, .
Currently, the WHO does not recommend mass vaccinations, and the U.S. reserves the vaccines in its stockpile for people who have been exposed to monkeypox.