Monkeypox may be spreading across dozens of nations, but doesn’t qualify as a global health emergency yet, the World Health Organization said Saturday.
However, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said monkeypox was evolving rapidly and advised governments around the world to increase their surveillance, contact tracing and testing, CNBC reported. He also urged world leaders to ensure that people at high risk have access to vaccines and antiviral treatments.
The WHO has said mass vaccination is not recommended at this time to stop monkeypox. The US is offering vaccines to people who are at high risk of exposure to the virus and has sent doses to New York amid a spike in cases.
A total of 87 people have tested positive in New York as of Friday, according to the city Health Department, up from 78 people on Thursday.
The WHO met on an emergency basis to determine the monkeypox threat level. At least 3,000 monkeypox cases across more than 50 countries have been identified since early May, WHO data shows.
The US has reported 460 confirmed or suspected monkeypox cases across 32 states and Washington DC, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At stake was the possibility the WHO emergency committee would activate the organization’s highest alert level – similar to the one set in motion by COVID-19.
Tedros said the outbreak is worrisome, because it is spreading rapidly outside remote parts of West and Central Africa where it is usually found. In the current outbreak, 84% of cases reported worldwide are in Europe, which is rare.
“What makes the current outbreak especially concerning is the rapid, continuing spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission into vulnerable populations including people that are immunocompromised, pregnant women and children,” Tedros said in a statement Saturday.
Exactly how and why monkeypox — which is typically passed from an infected animal to a human host — has cropped up, and spread across continents, remains a mystery.
Historically, most cases have come out of West and Central Africa, following contact with an infected animal — mostly rodents, scientists believe, but also occasionally non-human primates.
Monkeypox primarily spreads through close physical contact with a person who is infected or contaminated material such as shared clothing or bedsheets. The virus may spread through respiratory droplets if the sick person has lesions in their throat or mouth. This requires sustained face-to-face contact, however, and monkeypox, unlike Covid-19, is not believed to spread through aerosol particles.
The monkey outbreak is primarily affecting gay and bisexual men who said they’ve had sex with new or multiple partners, the WHO said.
The disease often begins with symptoms similar to the flu, such as fever, headache, body aches, chills, exhaustion and swollen lymph nodes. A pimple-like rash or blisters then appears on the body. People are most infectious when they have the rash.
There are no treatments specifically for monkeypox, the CDC says, but antiviral drugs and vaccines developed to address smallpox can treat and prevent infections.