The WHO Warns the World about Monkeypox Becoming Endemic in Many Countries

“The risk of monkeypox becoming established in non-endemic countries is real,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference in Geneva.

“More than 1,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox have now been reported to the WHO from 29 countries that are not endemic for the disease. So far, no deaths have been reported in these countries. Cases have been reported mainly, but not only, among men who have sex with men. Some countries are now beginning to report cases of apparent community transmission, including some cases in women.”

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Endemic only in Africa, monkeypox has left mysteries thathealth experts cannot explain, including the origin of the monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and the United States. Based on the genome sequencing of the virus from infected people, the strain has a closer resemblance to the West African monkeypox strain than to the virus strain that was detected in Central Africa.

This result means that the outbreak started from a single case, but authorities have not yet been able to identify who was the first person who had the viral infection that is now causing the global spread of the disease.

Current Monkeypox Virus Is More Transmissible

Monkeypox virus spreads by close contact with infected people or animals through lesions, bodily fluids, and respiratory droplets.

In Africa, people would usually get monkeypox infections from wild animals like primates and rodents without outbreaks spilling across its borders.

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However, experts have been baffled by the unexpected outbreak in Europe, where transmissions were traced to two raves that were held in Spain and Belgium involving sexual activities.

“We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission,” Dr. David Heymann, former head of the WHO’s emergencies department, told The Associated Press.

Another cause of concern is that, even outside the body, poxviruses are known to survive for a long time, which makes surfaces like doorknobs and bedding possible vectors of monkeypox transmission.

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This alarming speed of transmissibility is a mystery that experts are endeavoring to understand, whether it is caused by a genetic change in the virus or some other factor, like long undetected presence of the disease outside Africa. Unfortunately, in spite of past warnings from scientists in Africa concerning the need to study monkeypox before it caused serious problems in the future, no entity had been willing to finance the research.

This sad reality was reflected in the words of the WHO chief during the Geneva press conference.

“This virus has been circulating and killing in Africa for decades. It’s an unfortunate reflection of the world we live in that the international community is only now paying attention to monkeypox because it has appeared in high-income countries. The communities that live with the threat of this virus every day deserve the same concern, the same care and the same access to tools to protect themselves.”

Two Monkeypox Variants and More than 40 Cases of Monkeypox and Orthopox Infections in the US

“There could be community-level transmission that is happening, and that’s why we want to really increase our surveillance efforts,” says Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of high consequence pathogens and pathology division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on a call with reporters.

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“No deaths have been reported in this outbreak among either the U.S. cases or those in other countries. That being said, we don’t want to minimize this condition. The rash caused by monkeypox virus can spread widely across the body or present in sensitive areas like the genitalia. It can be really painful, and some patients have reported needing prescription pain medicine to manage that pain.”

As CDC has ramped up its alert to level 2, emphasizing the importance of practicing enhanced precautions, it has also informed the American public that there are two variants of the virus that are now circulating in the country.

“While they’re similar to each other, their genetic analysis shows that they’re not linked to each other,” said McQuiston, who added that “the two strains stem from two different instances where the virus has spilled over from animals to humans in Africa, before spreading via person-to-person contact.”

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According to the CDC website, there are now more than 40 cases of monkeypox and orthopox in the US.

The following are the stages of the Monkeypox Disease:

  • Incubation period: 7−14 days, but may also take 5−21 days. A person may feel fine at this stage and not yet contagious.
  • Prodrome: Development of an early set of symptoms, including fever, headache, malaise, sometimes cough and sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes, also known as lymphadenopathy, which is a distinguishing characteristic of monkeypox from smallpox. An infected person may notice swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin and may already be contagious.
  • Rash. Development of lesions in the mouth and on the body. These lesions progress in four stages before scabbing and healing.
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The process may take a period of 2-3 weeks, with the severity of the disease depending on a person’s health, the route of poxvirus exposure, and the strain of the infecting virus, whether West African or Central African virus genetic groups or clades.

West African monkeypox is considered a milder disease, with fewer deaths and limited human-to-human transmission.

On the other hand, the Central African monkeypox virus clade is known to be more severe and has a higher mortality rate.

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