LONDON ( Associated Press) — The World Health Organization’s top monkeypox expert said Monday that the hundreds of cases of the disease to date are not expected to become another pandemic, but acknowledged there are still many unknowns. about the disease, including exactly how it is spreading and whether the halting of mass smallpox immunization decades ago may be somehow accelerating its transmission.
In a public session, Dr. Rosamund Lewis reported that it is essential to highlight that the vast majority of cases that are being observed in dozens of countries around the world correspond to homosexuals, bisexuals or men who have sex with other men, so that scientists can continue to study the issue and for populations at risk to take precautions.
“It is very important to describe this because it appears to be an increase in a mode of transmission that may have been previously underestimated,” said Lewis, WHO technical lead on monkeypox.
“At the moment, we are not worried about a pandemic,” he said. “We are concerned that individuals may acquire this infection through high-risk exposure if they do not have the information necessary to protect themselves.”
However, he warned that anyone is at potential risk of contracting the disease, regardless of their sexual orientation. Other experts have pointed out that it may be accidental that the disease was first detected in gay and bisexual men and say it could quickly spread to other groups if left unchecked. To date, the WHO said that 23 countries that had not previously had monkeypox have reported more than 250 cases.
Lewis said it is unknown whether monkeypox is transmitted sexually or just through close contact between people having sex, and described the threat to the general population as “low.”
“It is not yet known if this virus is exploiting a new mode of transmission, but what is clear is that it is still exploiting its known mode of transmission, which is close physical contact,” Lewis said. Monkeypox is known to spread when there is close physical contact with an infected person or their clothing or bedding.
He also warned that among the current cases there is a higher proportion of people with fewer lesions that are more concentrated in the genital region and are sometimes almost impossible to see.
“You can have these lesions for two to four weeks (and) they may not be visible to others, but you can still be infectious,” he reported.
Last week, a top adviser to the WHO said the outbreak in Europe, the United States, Israel, Australia and other countries was likely linked to sex at two recent parties in Spain and Belgium. This marks a significant change from the typical pattern of spread of the disease in West and Central Africa, where people are mainly infected through animals such as wild rodents and primates and epidemics have not crossed borders.
Scientists have not yet determined whether the monkeypox outbreak in rich countries can be blamed on Africa, but the disease continues to plague the continent. On Monday, Nigerian authorities confirmed their first monkeypox death this year, in addition to six other cases. The WHO states that thousands of cases are reported each year in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more severe disease may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.