As monkeypox cases rise worldwide, the World Health Organization on Wednesday called on the group currently most affected by the virus — men who have sex with men — to limit their sexual partners.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who declared monkey pox a global health emergency last Saturday, told reporters the best way to protect against infection was to “reduce the risk of exposure.”
“For men who have sex with men, for now, this includes reducing the number of sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners, and exchanging contact information with new partners to allow for follow-up if necessary,” he said.
Since early May, an increase in monkeypox infections has been reported outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.
Tedros said on Wednesday that more than 18,000 cases of monkeypox have now been reported to the WHO from 78 countries, with 70 percent of cases reported in Europe and 25 percent in the Americas.
Since May, five deaths have been reported in the outbreak, and about 10 percent of those infected end up in hospital to manage pain, he said.
‘Anyone’ can get monkey pox
A full 98 percent of cases have occurred in men who have sex with men.
A study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 98 percent of infected people were gay or bisexual men, and 95 percent of cases were transmitted through sexual activity.
Experts say transmission of the blistering disease appears to occur primarily during close, physical contact, and monkeypox has not yet been labeled a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Experts also warn to think that only one community can be affected by the disease, stressing that it spreads through regular skin-to-skin contact, as well as via droplets or touching contaminated bedding or towels in a household environment.
“Anyone exposed to it can get monkey pox,” Tedros said, urging countries to “take action” to reduce the risk of transmission to other vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women and people with immunosuppression.
The WHO has repeatedly warned of stigma surrounding the disease, which could deter those infected from seeking treatment.
“Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus and could fuel the outbreak,” Tedros said.
Andy Seale of the WHO’s Sexually Transmitted Infections Program stressed that reports of the need for gay and bisexual men to reduce their number of sexual partners “came from the communities themselves”.
He said this may have been just “a short-term message as we hope the outbreak will be short-lived, of course.”
He stressed that other measures are also needed to reduce the number of cases, including the dissemination of information about the symptoms to watch out for and the need for rapid isolation, and access to tests and medicines.
No mass vaccination
The WHO also recommends targeted vaccination for people exposed to someone with monkeypox or for those at high risk of exposure, including health professionals and those with multiple sexual partners.
“At this point, we don’t recommend mass vaccination against monkeypox,” Tedros said.
Vaccines initially developed against smallpox — the much more deadly cousin of monkeypox that was eradicated more than four decades ago — have been shown to protect against the virus, but vaccines are scarce.
Tedros also stressed that “vaccination does not provide immediate protection against infection or disease and can take several weeks.”
As for the delivery challenges, he said there were about 16 million doses of the main vaccine, from Danish drugmaker Bavarian Nordic, but most were in bulk form.
“It will take several months for them to be filled and finished into ready-to-use vials,” he said, urging countries that have already received a dose of it to share them.
“We must ensure equal access to vaccines for all individuals and communities affected by monkeypox in all countries, in all regions.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)