“We don’t know if we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Sylvie Briand, director of the WHO’s global infectious risk preparedness department, during a presentation to the organization’s member states on the “unusual” spread of the virus, during the World Health Assembly in Geneva (Switzerland).
Experts are trying to determine what caused this “unusual situation”, and preliminary results show no variation or mutation of the monkeypox virus, said Sylvie Briand.
“We have a window of opportunity to stop transmission now,” she said. “If we put the right measures in place now, we can probably contain this quickly.”
The virus present in a dozen European countries
The UK reported a first case on May 7. Since then, some 200 cases have been detected in countries far removed from those where the virus is endemic. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), precisely 219 cases – but no deaths – had been reported on Wednesday.
Endemic in eleven countries in Central and West Africa, monkeypox has suddenly been detected in more than twenty other countries around the world, including the United States, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and a dozen from European countries.
The Spanish Ministry of Health listed 98 confirmed cases on Friday, the United Kingdom 90, and Portugal 74. In the latter country, all the cases are men, most under the age of 40.
“We are currently at the very, very beginning of this event”, explained Sylvie Briand. “We know we’ll have more cases in the days to come,” but “it’s not a disease the general public should be worried about. It’s not Covid or other fast-spreading diseases.”
Very low vaccine stocks
Monkeypox belongs to the same family as smallpox, which killed millions of people worldwide each year until it was eradicated in 1980. But monkeypox is much less serious, with a death rate of 3 to 6%. Most patients recover after three to four weeks.
The initial symptoms are high fever, swollen glands and skin rashes. Many of the cases involve homosexuals, but experts point out that there is no evidence that the disease was sexually transmitted, which would have rather been transmitted by close contact with an infected person with lesions on the skin.
There isn’t really a cure, but antivirals have been developed against smallpox, one of which was recently approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), according to Sylvie Briand.
Smallpox vaccines are found to be 85% effective against monkeypox. But most people under 45 have not been vaccinated against smallpox, and vaccine stocks are now very low.
See also on The HuffPost: The links between monkeypox and Covid are not what you think
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