WHO official warns monkeypox could accelerate as cases spread across Europe

A senior European health official has warned that cases of the rare monkeypox virus may accelerate in the coming months, as the virus spreads across Europe.

“As we enter the summer season … with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission could accelerate,” said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.

The virus, which causes characteristic blisters but is rarely fatal, has been previously 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 of the disease were among men who had sex with men and 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.

Darklands festival organizers said three confirmed cases of monkeypox in Belgium are linked to a large-scale fetish festival in the coastal city of Antwerp.

French authorities said the virus had infected a 29-year-old man who lived in the area that includes Paris.

In Spain, the Ministry of Health has reported seven confirmed cases, and said it was waiting for confirmation for another 23.

But a regional health official said authorities had recorded 21 confirmed cases in the Madrid region, most of them linked to a gay-friendly sauna in the heart of the capital.

It was possible that these figures had not yet been included in the national census.

Portugal has 23 confirmed cases.

UK health officials on Friday reported 11 more confirmed cases in England, bringing the total to 20.

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.

Britain’s health minister, 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 UKHSA said four other cases announced on 16 May had all been identified as gay, bisexual or other men who had sex with men who appeared to have contracted the infection in London.

She said two new cases reported on May 18 had no history of travel to countries where the virus is endemic and “likely contracted the infection through community transmission”.

It gave no details of the latest cases reported on Friday.

The health authorities in Italy announced, on Thursday, the first case of monkeypox virus in the country, in 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.

2022-05-20 22:16:00

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