The risk of monkeypox setting in in non-endemic countries is real, the WHO warned on Wednesday, with more than 1,000 confirmed cases in such countries.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN health agency was not recommending mass vaccination against the virus and said there had been no deaths from the outbreak.
“The risk of monkeypox establishing itself in non-endemic countries is real,” Tedros told a news conference.
The zoonotic disease is endemic in humans in nine African countries, but outbreaks have been reported in several other states over the past month – mostly in Europe, and particularly in Britain, Spain and Portugal.
“There are now more than 1,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox to the WHO from 29 countries that are not endemic to the disease,” Tedros said.
“So far, there have been no deaths in these countries. Cases have been mainly reported, but not only among men who have sex with men.
“Some countries have now started reporting cases of apparent community transmission, including some cases in women.”
Greece on Wednesday became the latest country to confirm its first case of the disease, with health officials saying it included a man who had recently traveled to Portugal and who was hospitalized in stable condition.
Early symptoms of monkeypox include high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistering chickenpox-like rash.
Tedros said he was particularly concerned about the virus’ exposure to vulnerable groups, including pregnant women and children.
He said the sudden and unexpected appearance of monkeypox outside endemic countries suggested that there may have been undetected transmission for some time, but how long was not known.
A case of monkeypox in a non-endemic country is considered an outbreak.
Tedros said that while it was “clearly related,” the virus has been circulating and killing Africa for decades, with more than 1,400 suspected cases and 66 deaths so far this year.
“Communities that live with the threat of this virus every day deserve equal concern, equal care and equal access to protect themselves,” he said.
In some places where vaccines are available, they are being used to protect people, such as health care workers.
Tedros said post-exposure vaccination, ideally within four days, may be considered for high-risk close contacts, such as sexual partners or household members.
He said the WHO would issue guidance on clinical care, infection prevention and control, vaccination and community protection in the coming days.
He said people with symptoms should self-isolate at home and seek advice from a health worker, while people from the same household should avoid close contact.
Last weekend the WHO said that apart from patients being isolated, some hospitalizations had been reported.
WHO’s director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, Sylvie Bryand, said the smallpox vaccine could be used against monkeypox, a fellow orthopoxvirus, with a high level of efficacy.
WHO is trying to determine how many doses are currently available and asking manufacturers to find out what their production and distribution capacity is.