World (The Times Groupe)- The World Health Organization (WHO) announced nearly 200 cases of Monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries not usually known to have outbreaks of the unusual disease but described the epidemic as “containable” and proposed creating a stockpile to equitably share the limited vaccines and drugs available worldwide.
A UN health agency briefing on Friday said there is still a lot to learn about what triggered the unprecedented outbreak of Monkeypox outside of Africa, but there is no evidence that genetic changes in the virus are to blame.
“The first sequencing of the virus reveals that the strain is not different from those found in endemic countries, and that (this outbreak) is more likely caused by change in human behavior than anything else,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO’s director of pandemic and epidemic diseases.
A top WHO official said earlier this week that the outbreaks in Europe, the U.S., Israel, Australia and beyond were probably caused by sex at recent raves in Spain and Belgium. This is a significant departure from how the disease normally spreads in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by wild rodents and primates and outbreaks don’t cross borders.
WHO reported nearly 200 cases of Monkeypox, but that is likely an undercount. Spain’s authorities said on Friday that the number of cases had risen to 98, including one woman whose infection is “directly related” to a chain of transmission that had previously been restricted to men, officials in the region of Madrid said.
16 more Monkeypox cases have been reported in the UK, bringing the country’s total to 106 cases. In Portugal, 74 cases have been reported.
Most infections to date have been detected in gay and bisexual men, or men who have sex with men, according to doctors in Britain, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere. Scientists warn that if transmission is not curbed, the virus could spread to others.
Briand said that based on past outbreaks of the disease in Africa, the current situation appears “containable.”
She noted that WHO expects to see more cases reported in the future, noting “we don’t know if we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg or if there are many more cases undetected in communities.”
WHO’s expert group said it is reviewing the evidence and will provide guidance soon, as countries including Britain, Germany, Canada and the U.S. evaluate the use of smallpox vaccines to curb the outbreak.
Rosamund Lewis, head of WHO’s smallpox department, said that “mass vaccination is not necessary,” explaining Monkeypox does not spread easily and requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission. Monkeypox vaccines haven’t been developed, but WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85% effective.
Vaccines are available in some countries and they could be considered for those at high risk of the disease, such as close relatives of patients or health workers, but Monkeypox can mostly be controlled by isolating contacts and continuing epidemiological investigations.
In light of the limited global supply of smallpox vaccines, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Mike Ryan said the organization would be working with its member countries to potentially establish a centrally controlled stockpile, similar to the ones it has managed to distribute during outbreaks of yellow fever, meningitis, and cholera in countries that can’t afford them.
“We are talking about vaccines for targeted vaccination campaigns and targeted therapeutics,” Ryan said. So the volumes don’t necessarily need to be large, but every country may need access to a small amount of vaccine.”
The most common symptoms of Monkeypox are fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. More serious cases can develop lesions and a rash on the face and hands that can spread throughout the body.