Israel on Friday reported its first suspected case of the rare monkeypox virus in a man who had recently returned from a trip to Western Europe.
Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv said a man in his 30s was taken to hospital with symptoms of illness. He is reported to be in good condition and has been isolated and monitored.
The Health Ministry said Thursday it was taking precautions against the possible spread of monkeypox in Israel and instructed medical staff to look out for symptoms of the disease.
The report comes as a senior European health official warned Friday that cases could accelerate in the coming months, as the virus has spread to at least eight European countries.
“As we enter the summer season…with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission could accelerate,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge.
The virus, which causes characteristic blisters but is rarely fatal, has been seen in central and western Africa.
Cases have been detected in recent weeks in European countries including Portugal and Sweden as well as the United States, Canada and Australia, Kluge said, describing the spread as “atypical.”
“All but one of the recent cases had no relevant travel history to monkeypox endemic areas,” he added.
The health official warned that transmission could be boosted by the fact that “the cases currently detected are among those engaged in sexual activity”, and many do not recognize the symptoms.
Most of the initial cases were among men who had sex with men and who sought treatment at sexual health clinics, Kluge said, adding that “this indicates that transmission may have been ongoing for some time.”
The World Health Organization said it was investigating the fact that many of the reported cases were of gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.
The official’s statement came as France, Belgium and Germany reported their first cases of monkeypox, and Italy confirmed that it now had three cases linked to the disease.
French authorities said the virus had infected a 29-year-old man who lives in the region that includes Paris, while Belgium said it had confirmed two infections, including a man in the Flemish region of Brabant.
UK health officials on Friday reported 11 more confirmed cases in England, bringing the total to 20.
Increase in the coming days
The UK’s Health Security Agency chief medical advisor, Susan Hopkins, said she expected “this increase to continue in the coming days and to identify more cases in the wider community”.
She particularly urged gay and bisexual men to look out for symptoms, saying that a “significant proportion” of cases in the UK and Europe came from this group.
The British agency said monkeypox had not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection.
It can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of an infected person, as well as common items such as bedding and towels.
British Health Secretary Sajid Javid sought to reassure the public, tweeting: “Most cases are mild and I can confirm we have had additional doses of effective monkeypox vaccines.”
Symptoms of the disease include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue, and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.
The UK’s first case was announced on 7 May, of a patient who had recently traveled to Nigeria.
Two more cases were reported a week later, in people in the same household. They have no connection to the first case.
The UK Health Service (UKHSA) said four more cases were announced on 16 May all identified as gay, bisexual or other men who have had sex with men and appear to have contracted the infection in London.
She said two new cases reported on May 18 had no travel history to countries where the virus is prevalent and “likely contracted the infection through community transmission.”
It gave no details of the latest cases reported on Friday.
On Thursday, health authorities in Italy announced the first case of monkeypox in the country for a young man who had recently returned from the Canary Islands.
On Friday, they said two more cases linked to “patient zero” had been confirmed.
Monkeypox is usually cleared after two to four weeks, according to the World Health Organization.