WHO calls emergency meeting as monkeypox cases top 100 in Europe

  • Rare outbreak of viral disease outside of Africa
  • Cases in the UK, Spain, Belgium, France and North America
  • cause still uncertain
  • WHO holds emergency meeting to discuss cases
  • As cases top 100, Germany declares highest on record in Europe

LONDON, May 20 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization was due to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the recent outbreak of monkeypox, a viral infection more common in West and Central Africa, after more than 100 cases been confirmed or suspected in Europe.

In what Germany has described as the biggest outbreak ever seen in Europe, cases have now been confirmed in at least five countries – the UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy – as well as in the United States, Canada and Australia.

First identified in monkeys, the disease is usually spread through close contact and has rarely spread outside of Africa, so this series of cases has raised concerns.

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However, scientists do not expect the outbreak to develop into a pandemic like COVID-19, given that the virus does not spread as easily as SARS-COV-2.

Monkeypox is usually a mild viral illness, characterized by symptoms of fever as well as a characteristic bumpy rash.

“With several confirmed cases in the UK, Spain and Portugal, this is the largest and most widespread outbreak of monkeypox ever seen in Europe,” said the German Armed Forces Medical Service, which detected its first case in the country on Friday.

Fabian Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute described the outbreak as an epidemic.

“However, this outbreak is very unlikely to last for long. Cases can be isolated well through contact tracing and there are also effective drugs and vaccines that can be used if needed,” he said.

There is no specific vaccine against monkeypox, but data shows that vaccines used to eradicate smallpox are up to 85% effective against monkeypox, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). .

British authorities said on Thursday they had offered a smallpox vaccine to some healthcare workers and others who may have been exposed to monkeypox. Read more

The WHO committee to be convened is the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential (STAG-IH), which advises WHO on infection risks that could pose a threat to the global health.

UNUSUAL CASES

Since 1970, cases of monkeypox have been reported in 11 African countries. Nigeria has been experiencing a major outbreak since 2017 – so far this year there have been 46 suspected cases, 15 of which have since been confirmed, according to the WHO.

The first European case was confirmed on May 7 in an individual who had returned to England from Nigeria.

Since then, more than 100 cases have been confirmed outside Africa, according to an academic tracker at the University of Oxford. https://twitter.com/MOUGK/status/1527055553876348928

Many cases are unrelated to travel to the mainland. As a result, the cause of this outbreak is unclear, although health authorities have said there is potentially some degree of community spread.

In Britain, where 20 cases have now been confirmed, the UK Health Security Agency said recent cases in the country have mainly been in men who have identified as gay, bisexual or who have sex with men.

The 14 cases in Portugal that have all been detected in sexual health clinics also involve men who identify as gay, bisexual or who have sex with men.

Spanish health authorities said 23 new cases were confirmed on Friday, mostly in the Madrid region where most infections were linked to an adult sauna outbreak. Read more

It was too early to say whether the illness turned into a sexually transmitted disease, said Alessio D’Amato, health commissioner for Italy’s Lazio region. Three cases have been reported so far in the country. Read more

Sexual contact, by definition, is close contact, added Stuart Neil, professor of virology at Kings College London.

“The idea that there’s some sort of sexual transmission in there, I think, is a bit of a stretch,” he said.

Scientists are sequencing the virus from different cases to see if they are linked, the WHO said. The agency is expected to provide an update soon.

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Reporting by Jennifer Rigby and Natalie Grover in London; Twitter @NatalieGrover; additional reporting by Emma Pinedo Gonzalez, Emma Farge, Catriona Demony and Patricia Weiss; Editing by Josephine Mason and Nick Macfie

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