The risk of monkeypox establishing itself in non-endemic countries is real, the WHO warned on Wednesday, with more than a thousand cases now confirmed in such countries.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, said the UN health agency is not recommending mass vaccination against the virus, adding that no deaths had been reported so far from the outbreaks.
“The risk of monkeypox establishing itself in non-endemic countries is real,” Tedros told a news conference.
The zoonosis is endemic to humans in nine African countries, but outbreaks have been reported in several other states in the past month, mainly in Europe, and most notably in Britain, Spain and Portugal.
“More than 1,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox have now been reported to the WHO from 29 countries that are not endemic to the disease,” Tedros said.
“So far, no deaths have been reported in these countries. Cases have been reported mainly, but not only, in men who have sex with men.
“Some countries are now starting to report cases of apparent community transmission, including some cases in women.”
Early symptoms include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a blister-like chickenpox-like rash.
Tedros said he was particularly concerned about the risk the virus poses to vulnerable groups, including pregnant women and children.
He said the sudden and unexpected appearance of monkeypox outside endemic countries suggested there may have been undetected transmission for some time, but it was unknown for how long.
One case of monkeypox in a non-endemic country is considered an outbreak.
Tedros said that while this was “clearly concerning”, the virus has been circulating and killing in Africa for decades, with more than 1,400 suspected cases and 66 deaths so far this year.
“The communities that live with the threat of this virus every day deserve the same care, the same care and the same access to tools to protect themselves,” he said.
In the few places where vaccines are available, they are used to protect those who may be exposed, such as health professionals.
He added that post-exposure vaccination, ideally within four days, could be considered for higher-risk close contacts, such as sexual partners or family members.
Tedros said the WHO will issue guidelines on clinical care, infection prevention and control, vaccination and community protection in the coming days.
He said people with symptoms should isolate themselves at home and consult a health professional, while people in the same household should avoid close contact.
Few hospital admissions have been reported other than patients being isolated, the WHO said over the weekend.
Sylvie Briand, WHO director for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said the high-efficacy smallpox vaccine could be used against monkeypox, a fellow orthopox virus.
The WHO is trying to determine how many doses are currently available and to find out from manufacturers what their production and distribution capacities are.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)