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Monday, December 05, 2022

‘This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa’: Scientists scratch heads as monkeypox spreads through Europe

Cases of monkeypox are growing in the West in people who have not traveled to Africa — a phenomenon previously not seen before.

The United Kingdom recorded 11 cases on Friday, bringing the total to 20.

Portugal recorded nine new cases, bringing the total there to 23.

France, Germany, Canada and Belgium all confirmed their first cases of monkeypox on Friday.

Australia has recorded two cases, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney in travellers recently returned from the UK.

“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several World Health Organization advisory boards.

One of the theories British health officials are exploring is whether the disease is being sexually transmitted. Health officials have asked doctors and nurses to be on alert for potential cases, but said the risk to the general population is low.

Outbreaks in Nigeria, which reports about 3,000 monkeypox cases a year, are usually in rural areas, where people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels, according to Dr Tomori.

He said the disease is not spread very easily and that many cases are likely missed.

“Unless the person ends up in an advanced health center, they don’t attract the attention of the surveillance system,” he said.

Dr Tomori hoped the appearance of monkeypox cases across Europe and other Western countries would further scientific understanding of the disease.

The World Health Organization’s lead on emergency response, Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, acknowledged this week that there were still “so many unknowns in terms of the dynamics of transmission, the clinical features (and) the epidemiology.”

A Greyscale Image Shows Fuzzy Circular And Oval-Shaped Particles
Scientists hope the sudden spike in cases leads to a greater understanding of the virus.,Reuters: Cynthia S Goldsmith, Russell Regnery/CDC/Handout,

British officials have noted that the most recent cases have all been in young men who had no history of travel to Africa and were gay, bisexual, or had sex with men.

Authorities in Spain and Portugal also said their cases were in young men who mostly had sex with other men and said those cases were picked up when the men turned up with lesions at sexual health clinics.

Experts have stressed they do not know if the disease is being spread through sex, or other close contact related to sex.

“This is not something we’ve seen in Nigeria,” Dr Tomori said. He said viruses that hadn’t initially been known to transmit via sex, like Ebola, were later proven to do so after bigger epidemics showed different patterns of spread.

The same could be true of monkeypox, Dr Tomori said. “We would have to go back through our records to see if this might have happened, like between a husband and wife,” he said.

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