British health officials reported 77 cases of monkeypox on Monday, bringing the total to more than 300 cases across the country. To date, the UK has the largest identified prevalence of the disease outside of Africa, with the vast majority of infections in gay and bisexual men.
Health officials warn that anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, is likely to be susceptible to monkeypox if they come into close contact with the patient or the patient’s clothing or bed sheets.
More than two dozen countries that have not previously identified cases of monkeypox have reported 780 cases, the World Health Organization said on Sunday, a more than 200 percent increase in cases since late May. No deaths from monkeypox have yet been identified outside of Africa.
The UN health agency said most cases in Europe and elsewhere were detected in sexual health clinics and “mainly, but not exclusively, involved men who have sex with men”.
So far this year, there have been more than 1,400 cases of monkeypox and 63 deaths in four countries with outbreaks — Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo and Nigeria — according to the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus’s genetic sequence has not yet shown any direct link to the outbreak outside Africa.
The WHO said the sudden and unexpected discovery of monkeypox in several countries “indicates that there may have been an undetected transmission for some unknown time followed by recent amplification events.” Last month, a senior WHO adviser said outbreaks in Europe and beyond had likely been spread through sex at two recent parties in Spain and Belgium.
The World Health Organization estimated that the risk to global health posed by monkeypox was “moderate”, saying this was the first time that many cases and clusters had been reported worldwide. Until last month, the disease was not known to cause major epidemics outside Central and West Africa, affecting mostly people in rural areas who were in close contact with infected wild animals.
The ongoing outbreak of monkeypox in Europe and elsewhere, including Canada, Australia, Israel and the United States, marks the first time the disease has been known to spread among people without previous travel links to Africa.
Canada has at least 77 confirmed cases of monkeypox, according to figures provided Friday by Canada’s chief public health official and Santé Québec, the provincial health department.
Of the cases identified so far through lab tests, 71 are from Quebec, five are from Ontario and one is from Alberta. British Columbia health officials also reported one confirmed case on Monday.
Actions are needed to limit the spread
US health officials have said genetic analysis of recent monkeypox cases indicates that there are two different strains in the country, raising the possibility that the virus will spread undetected for some time. US federal health officials said many of the cases in the United States were caused by the same strain as recent cases in Europe, but some samples show a different strain.
Britain’s Health Security Agency said last week that most of the cases were of gay or bisexual men between the ages of 20 and 49, and that “investigations to date have identified links to gay bars, saunas and the use of dating apps in the UK and abroad.”
Most patients with monkeypox have fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop rashes and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.
Dr Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s chief expert on monkeypox, said last week that she suspected the disease could trigger a pandemic, but said action should be taken swiftly to curb its spread so it does not take root in new areas.