World Health Organization declares monkeypox not a global health emergency at this time
The World Health Organization said on Saturday that the rapid spread of monkeypox in dozens of countries does not represent a global health emergency at this time.
However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described monkeypox as an evolving health threat and urged governments around the world to step up surveillance, contact tracing, testing and ensure that people at high risk have access to vaccines and antiviral treatments.
The WHO has convened its emergency committee to determine the level of threat that monkeypox currently poses to the international community. At least 3,000 cases of monkeypox in more than 50 countries have been identified since early May, according to WHO data.
The committee weighed whether or not to activate WHO’s highest level of alert in response to the outbreak, called a public health emergency of international concern. Covid-19 and poliomyelitis are the only other viral epidemics considered international public health emergencies by the WHO.
Although the WHO has not activated its highest level of alert, Tedros said the outbreak is causing serious concern as it is spreading rapidly in countries where the virus is not normally found. Historically, monkeypox has spread at low levels in remote areas of West and Central Africa. In the current epidemic, 84% of the reported cases worldwide are in Europe, which is very unusual.
“What makes the current outbreak of particular concern is the rapid and continued spread to new countries and regions and the risk of further and sustained transmission to vulnerable populations, including immunocompromised people, pregnant women and children” , Tedros said in a press release on Saturday.
The WHO director said research into the circulation of monkeypox in Africa has been neglected, which has endangered the health of people there and around the world.
Monkeypox is mainly spread through close physical contact with an infected person or contaminated material such as shared clothing or bedding. The virus can spread through respiratory droplets if an infected person has sores in their throat or mouth. However, this requires sustained face-to-face contact and monkeypox is not thought to be spread through aerosol particles.
Respiratory droplets quickly fall to the ground, while aerosol particles linger in the air longer. Covid-19 spreads through aerosol particles, which is one of the reasons it is so contagious.
Monkeypox belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox, but it has milder symptoms. Most people recover in two to four weeks without specific medical treatment.
According to the WHO, the monkey outbreak is primarily affecting gay and bisexual men who have reported having sex with new or multiple partners. Of the 468 monkeypox patients who disclosed demographic information, 99% were male. Most of them identified as men who have sex with men and had a median age of 37, according to the WHO.
The United States has reported 142 confirmed or suspected cases of monkexpox in 23 states and Washington DC, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials in the United States have sought to raise awareness ahead of Pride Month about how the virus is spread and what symptoms look like so people can protect themselves from infection. Although men who have sex with men are currently at greater risk, anyone can catch monkeypox through close physical contact, regardless of sexual orientation.
Monkeypox often begins with flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, body aches, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes. A rash that looks like pimples or blisters then appears on the body. People are more contagious when they have the rash.
Some patients in the current outbreak developed a rash only on the genitals or anus before showing flu-like symptoms, indicating it is spreading through sexual contact in these cases, according to the CDC. In other cases, patients developed the rash without any flu-like symptoms.
The United States has stockpiled two different vaccines and antiviral treatment to fight smallpox and monkeypox. Jynneos is a two-dose vaccine approved for people aged 18 and over. The CDC generally recommends Jynneos over the only other option, ACAM2000, an older generation smallpox vaccine. Jynneos is considered safer than ACAM2000, which can have serious side effects.
The WHO said mass vaccination is not recommended at this time to stop monkeypox. The United States offers vaccines to people at high risk of exposure to the virus.
The international health agency has only applied the emergency designation six times since the rules were implemented in the mid-2000s. The last time the WHO declared a global health emergency, before Covid, c t was in 2019 for the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo that killed more than 2,000 people. The agency also declared global emergencies for the 2016 Zika virus, the 2009 H1N1 swine flu, and the 2014 polio and Ebola outbreaks.