Monkeypox cases in Europe have tripled, WHO says


The World Health Organization’s Europe chief warned on Friday that cases of monkeypox in the region had tripled in the past two weeks and urged countries to do more to ensure the previously rare disease does not settle on the mainland.

And African health authorities have said they are treating the growing monkeypox epidemic as an emergency, calling on wealthy countries to share limited vaccine stocks to avoid equity issues seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO Europe chief Dr Hans Kluge said in a statement that increased efforts were needed despite the UN health agency’s decision last week that the escalating outbreak did not justify yet to be declared a global health emergency.

“Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the continued spread of this disease,” Kluge said.

To date, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries around the world that don’t normally report the disease, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kluge said the number of infections in Europe is about 90% of the global total, with 31 countries in the WHO’s European region having identified cases.

Kluge said data reported to the WHO shows that 99% of cases are in men, with the majority in men who have sex with men. But he said there were now « a small number » of cases among household contacts, including children. Most people reported symptoms, including rash, fever, fatigue, muscle aches, vomiting, and chills.

Scientists are warning anyone who comes in close physical contact with someone with monkeypox or with their clothes or bedding that they are at risk of infection. Vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women are more likely to suffer from serious illnesses.

About 10% of patients were hospitalized for treatment or to be isolated, and one person was admitted to an intensive care unit. No deaths have been reported.

Kluge said the problem of stigma in some countries could make some people reluctant to seek health care and said the WHO was working with partners, including organizers of gay pride events.

In the UK, which has the largest outbreak of monkeypox beyond Africa, officials have noted that the disease is spreading in « defined sexual networks of gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men ». British health authorities said there were no signs to suggest sustained transmission beyond these populations.

A top WHO adviser said in May that the spike in cases in Europe was likely linked to men’s sexual activity at two rave parties in Spain and Belgium.

Ahead of gay pride events in the UK this weekend, London’s top public health doctor has asked people with symptoms of monkeypox, such as swollen glands or blisters, to stay home.

Nevertheless, in Africa, the WHO reports that, according to detailed data from Ghana, monkeypox cases were almost evenly distributed between men and women, and no spread was detected among men who have sex with women. men.

WHO Europe director Kluge also said vaccine procurement « must apply the principles of equity ».

The main vaccine used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox and the European Medicines Agency said this week it was starting to assess whether it should be licensed for monkeypox. The WHO said stocks of the vaccines, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.

Countries like the UK and Germany have already started vaccinating people at high risk of monkeypox; the UK recently extended its vaccination program to most gay and bisexual men who have multiple sex partners and are considered the most vulnerable.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large epidemics beyond parts of central and western Africa, where it has been sickening people for decades, is endemic in several countries and primarily causes limited epidemics when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.

To date, there have been around 1,800 suspected cases of monkeypox in Africa, including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been laboratory confirmed. Lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance mean that many cases go undetected.

“This particular outbreak for us signifies an emergency,” said Ahmed Ogwell, acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control.

The WHO says monkeypox has spread to African countries where it has not been seen before, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of the continent’s infections are in Congo and Nigeria, according to WHO Africa director Dr Moeti Matshidiso.

Vaccines have never been used to stop monkeypox epidemics in Africa; officials have relied primarily on contact tracing and isolation.

The WHO noted that, similar to the rush last year for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with monkeypox vaccines are not yet sharing them with Africa.

« We don’t have donations that have been given to (poorer) countries, » said Fiona Braka, who heads WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that the countries that have stocks, they mainly reserve them for their own populations.”

Matshidiso said the WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stocks to see if they could be shared.

“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to defeat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she said on Thursday.


Mutsaka reported from Harare, Zimbabwe.


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