Monkeypox outbreak: What we know so far

Just when the world thought the worst of COVID was over, an outbreak of another virus has scientists worried.

Cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the UK, Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, the US, Canada and Australia.

What worries experts is the unusual spread of the disease. Monkeypox normally circulates in Africa, with occasional isolated cases associated with travel abroad. But according to the EU’s disease control agency, recent cases in Europe appear to have been spreading from person to person with no direct link to Africa for the first time. In addition, health officials in a number of countries have found that the spread appears to be concentrated in gay or bisexual men.

Public health officials in the UK have issued an urgent call for virologists to volunteer to help step up the response to the monkeypox outbreak, according to the UK mediawhile the World Health Organization holds daily meetings to the rapidly changing situation.

POLITICO delves into what we know so far.


What is monkey pox?

Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus that belongs to the same family as smallpox.

Monkeypox symptoms typically begin with fever, sore muscles, swollen lymph nodes, and headache. Typically, within one to three days of the onset of the fever, a distinct bumpy rash develops — often starting on the face — and spreads, including to the hands and feet.

However, monkeypox is less deadly than smallpox. The West African type that scientists have identified in Europe has a mortality rate of just under 4 percent. So far, no deaths have been reported from the recent outbreak in Europe, but monkeypox can leave patients bedridden for days. The illness usually lasts between two and four weeks.

where are the falls

In this latest outbreak, the UK became the first country to detect a case of monkeypox on May 6th. a total of 20 people have been found with the disease in the country. The UK Health Security Agency said these cases were mostly in gay or bisexual men. The virus has also been found elsewhere in Europe. Portugal reports 14 cases of monkeypoxand Spain Approved 30 cases. Italy has three confirmed cases, Belgium twoand France and Sweden have confirmed one case so far. Germany’s first case was identified in Munich, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach confirmed at a G7 press conference on Friday.

Canada’s Public Health Agency Approved two cases in the country. A case was also reported in the US, with the man recently traveling to Canada while other possible cases are monitored. Australia reports two confirmed cases.

Why are experts concerned?

The concern expressed by the virologist Marion Koopmans is the fact that the cases of monkeypox have been detected in several different countries, since monkeypox is not usually very contagious. Koopmans, Head of the Erasmus MC Department of Viroscience, tweeted Thursday that the outbreak is “starting to be worrying”. She said in the past, the occasional cases that were brought in mostly didn’t spread further. “In this situation, new cases have been detected in different countries,” she said. “That is very unusual.”

Koopmans said it could be that monkeypox has become more transmissible and there is “an urgent need” for more information.

This concern was echoed by Lauterbach of Germany: “Only genetic studies will tell… whether the route of infection has changed,” he told the press.

That information will likely come next week. Francesco Vaia, director of Italy’s national institute for infectious diseases, the Lazzaro Spallanzani Institute, told a news conference on Friday that her virology laboratory is expected to isolate the virus next week. This will also allow testing of whether antibodies from the smallpox vaccine can neutralize the virus, he said.

Concerns have also been raised as to whether this virus has evolved in such a way that it can be transmitted both sexually and through close contact. “We study it, we do research on sperm,” Andrea Antinori, director of the Department of Viral Immunodeficiency at Lazzaro Spallanzani Institute said the press conference in Italy.

More broadly, Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said the imported cases “suggest a greater burden of disease elsewhere in the world”.

“It may be that in a post-pandemic environment we should pay more attention to understanding the local and global impacts of Lassa, monkeypox, Ebola and other rare but serious pathogens,” he said.

What do experts recommend?

ECDC is calling on public health groups to raise awareness of monkeypox in communities of people who identify as men who have sex with men, have multiple sexual partners, or have casual sex.

Monkeypox is not known to be sexually transmitted, the head of the University of Southampton said earlier this week, commenting on the cases in the UK. “Rather, this is where close contact during sexual or intimate activity, including prolonged skin-to-skin contact, may be the key factor in transmission,” he explained.

Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the UK outbreak was “unprecedented”. However, he said if the cases were identified, isolated and treated, and close contacts identified and monitored, they could “be brought under control quickly”.

In countries where vaccines against smallpox are available, ECDC recommends considering vaccinating high-risk close contacts after weighing the risks and benefits. And when antivirals are available, they should be considered for treating severe cases, the agency said. In the UK, some healthcare workers have been affected, as well as other vulnerable contacts is offered smallpox vaccines. In Spain, the newspaper El País reported that the country’s health ministry is preparing to buy thousands of doses to help contain the outbreak.

In Italy, Vaia said the country has antivirals ready to be used experimentally “if necessary”.

This article has been updated.

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