‘I AM AMAZED’:
The disease is not known to be sexually transmitted, but a large outbreak could reveal previously unknown transmission routes, a virologist has said.
Scientists who have tracked numerous outbreaks of monkeypox in Africa say they are baffled by the disease’s recent spread to Europe and North America.
Cases of the smallpox-related disease have previously only been seen among people with links to West and Central Africa.
However, in the past week, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the United States, Sweden and Canada have all reported infections, mainly in young men who had no never traveled to Africa before.
There are around 80 confirmed cases worldwide and another 50 suspected cases, the WHO said. France, Germany, Belgium and Australia reported their first cases on Friday.
“I am stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who previously headed the Nigerian Academy of Sciences and sits on several WHO advisory boards.
“This is not the kind of spread we have seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he said.
To date, no one has died in the outbreak. Monkeypox usually causes fever, chills, rashes, and lesions on the face or genitals. The WHO estimates the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people, but smallpox vaccines are protective and some antiviral drugs are in development.
British health officials are investigating whether the disease is sexually transmitted. Health officials asked doctors and nurses to be on alert for potential cases, but said the risk to the general population was low.
The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all suspected cases be isolated and high-risk contacts offered the smallpox vaccine.
Nigeria reports around 3,000 cases of monkeypox a year, according to the WHO. Outbreaks usually occur in rural areas, when people come into close contact with infected rats and squirrels, Tomori said.
He said many cases are likely missed.
Ifedayo Adetifa, chief executive of the Nigerian Center for Disease Control, said none of the Nigerian contacts of the UK patients had developed symptoms and investigations were ongoing.
WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge called the outbreak “atypical”, saying the outbreak of the disease in so many countries across the continent suggested “transmission has been going on for a time”.
He said most European cases are mild.
The UK Health Security Agency reported 11 new cases of monkeypox on Friday, saying a “notable proportion” of infections in the UK and Europe were in young men with no history of travel to Africa and who were gay, bisexual or had sex with men.
Authorities in Spain and Portugal also said their cases involved young men who mostly had sex with other men and said the cases were detected when the men presented with lesions to clinics. sexual health.
Experts said they don’t know if the disease is spread through sex or through other close sex-related contacts.
Nigeria has not experienced sexual transmission, Tomori said, but he added that viruses that were not initially known to be sexually transmitted, such as Ebola, were later found to do so after more large epidemics have shown different patterns of spread.
The same could be true for monkeypox, Tomori said.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the government was confident the outbreak could be contained.
He said the virus was being sequenced to see if there were any genetic changes that could have made it more infectious.
Rolf Gustafson, a professor of infectious diseases, told Swedish broadcaster SVT it was “very difficult” to imagine the situation could get worse.
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