Unlikely monkeypox outbreak set to become a pandemic, says WHO

The World Health Organization said on Monday that it does not believe the monkeypox outbreak currently sweeping the globe will become a pandemic.

Since May 13, at least 257 cases of the rare disease have been confirmed in 23 countries where the virus is not endemic, mainly in Europe and North America, and 120 are suspected.

Of those infections, 14 are confirmed or suspected in eight US states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, no deaths have been reported in non-endemic countries.

The disease is not generally found outside of West and Central African countries, which has raised fears of community transmission.

According to the WHO, there is currently no clear link between reported cases and travel from endemic countries.

This image from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a monkeypox virus particle obtained from a human skin sample.

Cynthia S. Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control/AFP via Getty Images

Asked during a public session on Monday whether the recent outbreak could become a pandemic, Dr. Rosamund Lewis, WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, replied: “The answer is we don’t know, but we don’t.” we believe”.

“At the moment, we are not worried about a global pandemic,” Lewis continued.

Other public health officials have said the risk of spread is generally low.

The WHO stated that the majority of cases have been reported among men who identify as homosexual, bisexual or men who have sex with men. Monkeypox can still be spread to anyone exposed to it.

“We are concerned that people could acquire this infection through high-risk exposure if they don’t have the information they need to protect themselves,” Lewis said.

He offered recommendations for people to reduce their risk of infection, including avoiding people with confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox and, if caring for someone with the disease, avoiding skin-to-skin contact, washing hands regularly, using a mask and cleaning of contaminated surfaces.

“Collectively, the world has a chance to stop this outbreak,” Lewis said. “There is a window of opportunity where this can be contained.”

When people get infected with monkeypox, it is usually a mild illness with the most common symptoms being fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, back pain, and swollen lymph nodes.

Patients can develop a rash and lesions that often begin on the face and extremities before spreading to the rest of the body. Symptoms typically last two to four weeks before dissipating.

Animals transmit the disease to humans through a bite or scratch, and people can also get monkeypox by preparing and eating infected bushmeat.

Person-to-person transmission occurs through prolonged hugging, touching, or face-to-face contact, as well as by touching the clothing or sheets of an infected person.

The WHO said there are many “unknowns” about the outbreak, including whether the virus is transmitted sexually or through close contact during sex. It is also unclear whether monkeypox can be spread if a person is asymptomatic.

However, officials stressed that the risk to the general public remains low and should not be compared to COVID-19.

“Monkeypox is very different from COVID-19,” Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said during the public session. “We don’t want people to panic or be scared and maybe think it’s like COVID but worse.”

He added: “This monkeypox disease is not COVID-19. It is a different virus; it is a different disease.”

Christine Theodorou of ABC News contributed to this report.

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