LONDON ( Associated Press) – A key World Health Organization advisory has described the unprecedented outbreak of the rare disease monkeypox in developed countries as “a random event”, explained by risky sexual behavior in two recent mass incidents in Europe can go.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr David Heyman, formerly the head of the WHO’s emergency department, said the leading theory to explain the spread of the disease was between gay and bisexual men in two raves conducted in Spain and Belgium. There was sexual transmission. Monkeypox has not previously triggered widespread outbreaks beyond Africa, where it is endemic in animals.
“We know that monkeypox can be spread when there is close contact with the sores of an infected person, and it appears that sexual contact has now increased that transmission,” Heyman said.
This marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are primarily infected by animals such as wild rodents and primates and outbreaks do not spread across borders.
A German government report to lawmakers obtained by the Associated Press said it expected to see more cases and that the risk of catching monkeypox “seems to lie mainly with sexual contact between men.”
Four confirmed cases in Germany have been linked to exposure to “party events including those in Gran Canaria and Berlin, where the sexual activity took place”.
To date, the WHO has reported more than 90 cases of monkeypox in a dozen countries, including the UK, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, the US and Australia. On Monday, Denmark announced its first case, Portugal revised its case total to 37 and Italy reported another infection.
The Spanish capital has so far recorded 30 confirmed cases, a senior Madrid health official said on Monday. Enrique Ruiz Escudero said authorities are investigating possible links between a recent Gay Pride event in the Canary Islands, which was attended by nearly 80,000 people, and cases at the Madrid sauna.
Heyman chaired an urgent meeting of the WHO’s Advisory Group on Infectious Disease Threats on Friday to assess the ongoing pandemic and said there was no evidence that monkeypox could mutate into a more contagious form.
Monkeypox usually causes fever, chills, rash and sores on the face or genitals. It can be spread through close contact with an infected person or their clothing or sheets, but sexual transmission has not yet been documented. Most people recover from the disease within several weeks without the need for hospitalization. Vaccines against smallpox, a related disease, are also effective in preventing monkeypox and some antiviral drugs are being developed.
In recent years, the disease has been fatal in up to 6% of infections, but there are currently no deaths. The WHO said the confirmed cases so far belong to the less severe West African group of monkeypox virus and appear to be linked to a virus that first appeared in cases exported from Nigeria to the UK, Israel and Singapore in 2018-2019 was found.
The UN agency said the outbreak was “an extremely unusual event” and added that the fact that many different countries are seeing cases suggests the disease has been spreading silently for some time. The agency’s Europe director warned that as summer begins across the continent, mass gatherings, festivals and parties could accelerate the spread of monkeypox.
Other scientists have pointed out that it will be difficult to separate whether it is sex itself or close contact related to sex that has recently driven the spread of monkeypox across Europe.
“By nature, sexual activity involves intimate contact, which would be expected to increase the likelihood of transmission, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation and mode of transmission,” said Mike Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London.
On Sunday, Dr. Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for Britain’s Health Protection Agency, said she expected more cases of monkeypox to be identified in the country “on a daily basis”.
UK officials have said a “significant proportion” of cases in Britain and Europe have been among young people with no history of travel to Africa and who are gay, bisexual or have sex with men. Authorities in Portugal and Spain also said their cases were mostly in men who had sex with other men and whose infection was picked up when they sought help for wounds at sexual health clinics.
Heyman, who is also a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the monkeypox outbreak was a random event that could be traceable to a single infection.
Heyman hypothesized, “It is very possible that there was someone who became infected, developed sores on the genitals, hands, or elsewhere, and then spread it to others through sexual or close, physical contact.” ” “And then there were these international events that led to outbreaks around the world, in the US and other European countries.”
He stressed that it is unlikely to trigger widespread transmission of the disease.
“It’s not COVID,” he said. “We need to slow it down, but it doesn’t spread through the air and we have vaccines to protect against it.” Heyman said studies should be conducted rapidly to determine whether monkeypox can be spread by people without symptoms and that those at risk for the disease should take precautions to protect themselves.