By Asmau Ahmad
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Friday that some 200 cases of monkeypox found in recent weeks outside countries where the virus usually circulates could be just the beginning.
“We don’t know if we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Sylvie Briand, WHO’s head of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, at a briefing for countries on the “unusual” spread of the virus.
Since Britain first reported a confirmed case of monkeypox on May 7, nearly 200 cases have been reported to the UN health agency in countries far from states where the virus is endemic.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has put the number of such cases at 219.
Endemic to several countries in West and Central Africa, cases of monkeypox have been suddenly detected in more than 20 other countries around the world, including the United States, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and nearly a dozen EU countries.
The Spanish Health Ministry said on Friday that 98 cases have been confirmed there so far, while Britain currently has 90 verified infections.
Meanwhile, Portugal has registered 74 confirmed cases, health authorities said on Friday, adding that all the cases are in men, mainly under 40 years of age.
No need to panic “We are still at the beginning of this event,” Briand told member state representatives attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva.
“We know that we will have more cases in the coming days,” he said, but stressed that there was no need to “panic”.
“This is not a disease that the general public should be concerned about. It’s not covid or other diseases that spread fast.”
Monkeypox is related to smallpox, which killed millions of people around the world each year before it was eradicated in 1980.
But monkeypox is much less serious, with a fatality rate of three to six percent. Most people recover in three to four weeks.
Initial symptoms include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a chickenpox-like rash.
While many of the cases have been linked to men who have sex with men, experts stress there is no evidence that it was a sexually transmitted disease. Rather, it appears to be spread by close contact with an infected person who has blisters on their skin.
There isn’t much in the way of treatment, but there are some antivirals developed for smallpox, including one that was recently approved by the European Smallpox Medicines Agency, Briand said.
Vaccines developed for smallpox have also been found to be about 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox.
However, because smallpox has not been a threat in more than four decades, most people under the age of 45 have not been vaccinated, and vaccine supplies are now very limited.
Briand said experts were trying to determine what had caused this “unusual situation,” and said preliminary investigations did not seem to indicate that the virus that causes monkeypox had changed or mutated.
She expressed hope that the spread could be stopped.
“We have a good window of opportunity to stop transmission now,” he said.
“If we put the right measures in place now, we can probably contain this easily.”