WHO Calls Emergency Meeting After Monkeypox Outbreaks in Europe Worsen

If you think that the world’s getting a break after COVID-19, you couldn’t be more wrong.

With the recent COVID-19 situation taking a backseat in most places across the world, you might have heard of the most recent virus outbreak, the monkeypox outbreak.

And if you haven’t heard of what monkeypox is, here’s a TL;DR recap for you.

Monkeypox: What it’s About

Monkeypox, a virus that results in fever, body aches, enlarged lymph nodes, and painful, fluid-filled blisters on the face, hands and feet, first emerged in 1958.

It is also much rarer than chickenpox and is generally more life-threatening.

And of course, it’s called monkeypox because it was first discovered in monkeys lah.

Currently, there are two main strains of the virus. The Congo strain has a 10% mortality rate, while the West African strain has a 1% mortality rate.

Despite its name, monkeys aren’t actually the main carriers of the virus. Rodents such as squirrels, rats, and dormice are the primary carriers of the virus.

And if you’re wondering how humans can catch the virus, you can be infected with monkeypox if an infected animal bites or scratches you, or if you come into contact with that animal’s bodily fluids.

However, the virus usually does not travel outside of Africa.

Current Monkeypox Outbreak in Europe

As most of us might know by now, there is currently a monkeypox outbreak in Europe, when the virus is much more common in west and central Africa.

However, more than one hundred cases have been found in Europe recently.

With German experts terming the current monkeypox outbreak as the “largest outbreak in Europe ever”, nine countries in Europe have reported cases of monkeypox.

They are namely Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Outside of Europe, cases have also been reported in the United States, Canada and Australia.

There were 24 new cases in Spain on Friday (20 May), with most of the cases reported coming from the Madrid region. The government has since announced the closure of a sauna as it is linked to most of the infections in the area.

On the other hand, an Israeli hospital has been treating a man who is suspected to have monkeypox after his arrival from West Europe.

Germany announced that it had detected its first case yesterday (20 May) as well.

Its armed forces’ medical service said, “This is the largest and most widespread outbreak of monkeypox ever seen in Europe.”

Since then, there have been online resources detailing how many monkeypox cases have been detected, as well as where these cases have come from.

World Health Organisation’s Meeting: Monkeypox Not as Transmissible as COVID-19

With the number of monkeypox cases rising rapidly across European countries, the World Health Organization held an emergency meeting yesterday (20 May) to discuss the recent monkeypox outbreak in Western countries.

The committee involved in the meeting was the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential (STAG-IH), which is in charge of putting out advises on infection risks that may pose a global health threat.

However, the committee is not in charge of determining whether or not the outbreak will be categorised as a public health emergency of international concern, which is WHO’s highest form of alerts.

As of now, the COVID-19 pandemic falls under that category.

However, despite the grim outlook on the monkeypox outbreak right now, scientists have mentioned that the monkeypox outbreak is unlikely to develop into a pandemic like COVID-19.

This is largely due to how the monkeypox virus is less transmissible than the COVID-19 virus.

“There appears to be a low risk to the general public at this time,” a senior US administration official noted.

Fabian Leendertz from the Robert Koch Institute also likened the outbreak as an epidemic.

“However, it is very unlikely that this epidemic will last long. The cases can be well isolated via contact tracing and there are also drugs and effective vaccines that can be used if necessary,” he explained.

Possible Impact of Monkeypox and Relevant Vaccines

Although the Monkeypox outbreak may not have as large of an impact as the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still areas of concern regarding the current outbreak.

For example, WHO’s European chief expressed concern over how the parties and festivals in the summer months may result in an increase in the number of infections.

Additionally, there is currently no available vaccination for monkeypox, but WHO brought up past studies which have proven that vaccinations for smallpox have been up to 85% effective against monkeypox.

In Britain, authorities have announced the availability of smallpox vaccines to healthcare workers and other personnel who may have come in contact with monkeypox.

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Prior to this outbreak, the monkeypox virus has been present in 11 African countries since 1970.

Currently, Nigeria is still fighting a large outbreak that started in 2017. WHO also noted that as of this year, there have been 46 suspected cases, with 15 of them being confirmed.

As for Europe, the first monkeypox case was confirmed on 7 May when an infected individual returned from Nigeria to England.

An academic at the University of Oxford mentioned that since then, there have been more than 100 confirmed cases of monkeypox outside of Africa.

However, most of the cases did not travel to Africa, making it unclear as to how they contracted the virus.

Health authorities have hence speculated that there may be some level of community spread when it comes to monkeypox.

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