By MARIA CHENG AP Medical Writer
LONDON (AP) — The World Health Organization says nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries that are not generally known to have outbreaks of the unusual disease, but described the outbreak as “controllable” and offered to create a stockpile to fairly share the limited vaccines and medicines available around the world.
In a public briefing on Friday, the UN health agency said there were still many unanswered questions about what sparked the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox outside Africa, but it there was no evidence that genetic changes in the virus were responsible.
“The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is no different from the strains that can be found in endemic countries and (this epidemic) is probably more due to a change in human behavior,” said Dr Sylvie Briand. , Director of Pandemics at the WHO. and epidemic diseases.
Earlier this week, a top WHO adviser said the outbreak in Europe, the US, Israel, Australia and beyond was likely linked to sex at two recent raves in Spain and in Belgium. This marks a significant departure from the typical spread pattern of the disease in West and Central Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates, and outbreaks have not spread beyond the borders.
Although the WHO has said nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported, this appears to be a likely undercount. On Friday, Spanish authorities said the number of cases there had risen to 98, including a woman, whose infection is “directly linked” to a chain of transmission that was previously limited to men, according to officials in the region of Madrid.
UK authorities added 16 more cases to their monkeypox tally, bringing the UK total to 106, while Portugal said its caseload had risen to 74. And authorities in Argentina reported a case of monkeypox in a Buenos Aires man on Friday, marking the first infection in Latin America. Officials said the man had recently traveled to Spain and was now showing symptoms consistent with monkeypox, including lesions and fever.
Doctors in Britain, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the United States and elsewhere have noted that the majority of infections to date have been in gay and bisexual men, or men who have sex with men. The disease is no longer likely to affect people because of their sexual orientation and scientists warn the virus could infect others if transmission is not curbed.
Briand of the WHO said that based on the evolution of past outbreaks of the disease in Africa, the current situation appeared “controllable”.
Still, she said the WHO expected to see more cases reported in the future, noting “we don’t know if we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg (or) if there’s a lot more undetected cases in communities,” she said. .
As countries like Britain, Germany, Canada and the United States begin to assess how smallpox vaccines could be used to stem the outbreak, the WHO said its expert panel was assessing the evidence and would provide guidance soon.
Dr Rosamund Lewis, head of the WHO’s smallpox department, said ‘there is no need for mass vaccination’, explaining that monkeypox does not spread easily and usually requires contact skin-to-skin for transmission. No vaccine has been specifically developed against monkeypox, but the WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85% effective.
She said countries with vaccine supplies could consider them for people at high risk of contracting the disease, such as close contacts of patients or healthcare workers, but that monkeypox could mainly be controlled by isolating contacts and by continuing epidemiological investigations.
Given the limited global supply of smallpox vaccines, WHO emergencies chief Dr Mike Ryan said the agency would work with its member countries to eventually develop a centrally controlled stockpile, similar to those she helped distribute during epidemics of yellow fever, meningitis and cholera in countries that cannot afford it.
“We’re talking about providing vaccines for a targeted vaccination campaign, for targeted treatments,” Ryan said. “So the volumes don’t have to be large, but each country may need access to a small amount of vaccine.”
Most patients with monkeypox only experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more severe illness may develop a rash and sores on the face and hands that may spread to other parts of the body.
Ashifa Kassam in Madrid and Daniel Politi in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.