Brazil reported the first monkeypox-related deaths outside the African continent on Friday, and Spain later confirmed the first known deaths in Europe.
The current outbreak started in May, with 20 cases registered in the UK. Since then, it has grown to more than 20,000 cases in 78 countries.
Last Saturday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the monkeypox outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” the highest level of threat.
It has been endemic to West and Central African countries for decades, but 70% of current infections occur in Europe and 25% in the Americas.
What do we know about the fatalities?
According to the Ministry of Health of Minas Gerais, the Brazilian victim was a 41-year-old man who also suffered from lymphoma and a weakened immune system.
“The comorbidities exacerbated his condition,” the ministry said.
He died of septic shock after being taken to intensive care.
Spain’s first death was recorded on Friday in the Valencia region, the second was reported on Saturday in the southern province of Andalusia. Both victims had been hospitalized in the days before their deaths with infections affecting the brain. It is possible that the deaths were related to pre-existing conditions.
Spain is one of the worst affected countries in the world and 4,298 people have been infected with the virus, according to the Emergency and Alerts Coordination Center of the Spanish Ministry of Health.
“Out of 3,750 [monkeypox] patients with available information, 120 cases were hospitalized [3.2%]and one case has died,” the center said.
The WHO said about 8% of monkey pox cases in Europe require hospitalization. The Global Health Authority has so far reported five confirmed monkey pox deaths in countries in Africa.
New WHO advice for monkey pox
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that 98% of monkey pox cases had been diagnosed in men who have sex with men.
He urged them to limit their number of sexual partners as monkeypox cases rise in their community and to exchange contact information with new partners.
“This is an outbreak that can be stopped… The best way to do that is to reduce the risk of exposure,” Tedros told a news conference from Geneva. “That means making safe choices for yourself and others.”
Vaccines are available to help protect against the virus, but supplies are limited. Monkeypox is not as transmissible or deadly as smallpox. The WHO says the type of monkeypox currently spreading outside Africa has a death rate of between 1%. Symptoms of monkeypox infection include fever, muscle aches, and blistering rash.