The World Health Organization does not believe that an outbreak of monkeypox outside Africa requires mass vaccinations because measures such as good hygiene and safe sexual behavior will help control its spread, a senior official said on Monday.
Richard Peabody, who leads the WHO’s team of high-risk nurses in Europe, told Reuters in an interview that immediate supplies of vaccines and antiviral drugs are relatively limited.
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His comments came as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was releasing some doses of the Genus vaccine for use in monkeypox cases.
On Monday, the German government said it was evaluating options for vaccinations, while Britain offered them to some health care workers.
Public health authorities in Europe and North America are investigating more than 100 suspected and confirmed cases of viral infection in the worst outbreak of the virus outside Africa, where it is endemic.
Peabody said that the basic measures to control the outbreak are tracing and isolating contacts, noting that it is not a virus that spreads very easily, and has not yet caused serious illness. He added that the vaccines used to combat monkeypox could have some important side effects.
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It is unclear what is driving the outbreak, as scientists try to understand the origin of the cases and whether anything related to the virus has changed. Separately on Monday, a senior UN agency executive said there was no evidence that the virus had mutated.
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Many — but not all — of the people diagnosed in the current monkeypox outbreak were MSM. The World Health Organization said earlier in the day that this may be because this population group is more likely to seek medical advice or access sexual health screenings more easily.
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Peabody said most of the confirmed cases have not been linked to travel to Africa, suggesting there may be large amounts of undetected cases. Some health authorities suspect some degree of community spread.
He said, “So we only see … the tip of the iceberg.”
Given the pace of the outbreak, and the lack of clarity about what’s driving it, there has been concern that big events and parties this summer could make things much worse.
“I’m not telling people not to have a good time, don’t go to these events,” Peabody said.
“Rather what people do at parties is what matters. So it is about safe sexual behaviour, good personal hygiene, regular hand washing – all of these types of things will help reduce transmission of this virus.”
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(Reporting by Natalie Grover in London; Editing by Josephine Mason, Stephen Coates and Bill Bercrout)