A senior advisor to the World Health Organization described the unprecedented outbreak of the rare diseaseIn developed countries it is a “random event” that can be explained by the risky sexual behavior of two recent mass events in Europe.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr. David Heymann, who formerly headed the WHO’s emergency department, said the main theory to explain the disease’s spread was sexual transmission between gay and bisexual men at two parties in Spain and Belgium. Monkeypox has never before caused a large-scale outbreak outside of Africa, where the animals are endemic.
“We know that monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the wounds of an infected person, and sexual contact now appears to amplify that transmission,” Heymann said.
This represents a significant departure from the usual pattern of outbreaks in Central and West Africa, where people are primarily infected by animals such as wild rodents and primates, and the outbreak has not spread across borders.
So far, the World Health Organization has recorded more than 90 cases of monkeypox in a dozen countries including Britain, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, Australia and the United States.
In the United States, so far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there is one. There are also suspected cases in Broward County, Florida and New York.
The virus is spread through body fluids, skin, and respiratory droplets. “It’s important to know that this virus really requires close personal contact,” said Dr. Anne Rimwin, professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. It’s unusual to see cases occur in multiple countries at the same time, she told CBS News medical correspondents Dr. John Labock. “We’ve never seen that before.”
A senior health official in Madrid said, on Monday, that the Spanish capital has recorded 30 confirmed cases of infection so far. Enrique Ruiz Escudero said authorities are investigating possible links between the recent “Guy Pride” event in the Canary Islands, which drew some 80,000 people, and cases in a sauna in Madrid.
Heymann chaired an urgent meeting of the World Health Organization’s advisory group on infectious disease threats on Friday to assess the ongoing epidemic and said there was no evidence to suggest monkeypox may have mutated into a more contagious form.
Monkeypox usually causes fever, chills, rash, and lesions on the face or genitals. It can be spread through close contact with an infected person or their clothing or bed linen, but sexual transmission has not been documented. Most people recover from the disease within several weeks without requiring hospitalization. Vaccines against smallpox, a related disease, are also effective in preventing monkeypox, and some antiviral drugs are being developed.
In recent years, the disease has been fatal in up to 6% of infections, but no deaths have been reported among the current cases. The World Health Organization said the confirmed cases were so far the least dangerous group of monkeypox viruses in West Africa and appeared to be linked to a virus first detected in cases exported from Nigeria to Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018-2019.
The UN agency said the outbreak was a “very unusual event” and said the fact that cases had emerged in so many different countries suggested the disease may have been spreading silently for some time. The acting director of Europe has warned that as summer rolls around the continent, mass gatherings, festivals and parties could accelerate the spread of monkeypox.
Other scientists have pointed out that it would be difficult to separate whether it was sex itself or close contact linked to sex that led to the recent spread of monkeypox across Europe.
“By its nature, sexual activity involves intimate contact, which one would expect increases the likelihood of transmission, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation and regardless of the mode of transmission,” said Mike Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London.
On Sunday, Britain’s Health Security Agency’s chief medical advisor, Dr Susan Hopkins, said she expected more monkeypox cases to be discovered in the country “on a daily basis”.
British officials said a “significant proportion” of cases in Britain and Europe were of young men with no history of travel to Africa and of gay, bisexual or male sex. Authorities in Portugal and Spain also said their cases were of men who had mostly sex with other men and their infections were picked up when they sought help at sexual health clinics.
Heyman, who is also a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the monkeypox outbreak was likely a random event that could be traced back to a single infection.
Hyman hypothesized: “It is very likely that a person has infected, or developed lesions on the genitals, hands, or elsewhere, and then spreads them to others when there is physical, sexual or close contact.” “Then there were these international events that seeded outbreaks all over the world, in the United States and other European countries.”
He stressed that the disease is unlikely to lead to widespread transmission.
“This is not Covid,” he said. “We need to slow it down, but it’s not spreading in the air and we have vaccines to prevent it.” Heymann said studies should be done quickly to determine whether monkeypox can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and that populations at risk for the disease should take precautions to protect themselves.
Dr. Labock of CBS News agreed.
“This has to be taken very seriously, and public health officials are taking it seriously,” Labock said. “But remember, this is very different from COVID. When the pandemic started, SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID, we didn’t know anything about it, it was a new virus. We didn’t have treatments, we didn’t have vaccines, we didn’t know anything. about this disease.
“This is completely different. We’ve known about monkeypox for over 60 years. There are vaccines, there are treatments, and we have a lot of experience dealing with it, certainly in Africa.”
He also noted that “at the beginning of the epidemic, it was spreading without people realizing it; they had no symptoms. [Monkeypox] He has a characteristic rash. It would be difficult for it to spread widely without us knowing about it.”