Professor David L. Heymann, Chair of the Emergency Committee of the WHO, speaks to the media during a press conference

WHO mulls monkeypox guidelines amid spread

The World Health Organization is working on new guidance for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox as cases could rise further in the coming months, a senior UN agency adviser has said. .

The WHO’s working theory based on the cases identified so far is that the outbreak is caused by sexual contact, according to David Heymann, chair of WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Potential Infectious Hazards. pandemic and epidemic.

He led a meeting on the outbreak on Friday.

Monkeypox is a generally mild infectious disease endemic to parts of West and Central Africa.

It spreads through close contact, which means it can be relatively easily contained through measures such as self-isolation and hygiene once a new case is identified.

The recent outbreak in countries where it is not endemic is highly unusual, scientists say.

Authorities in Israel and Switzerland reported their first confirmed case of monkeypox on Saturday.

Infections have been reported in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, the United States, Canada and Australia.

More than 100 confirmed or suspected cases have been reported, mostly in Europe.

Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said experts were likely to give more advice to countries in the coming days.

Health officials in several countries have warned that cases could rise further during large gatherings and summer festivals in the northern hemisphere.

“What seems to be happening now is that it has entered the population in a sexual form, in a genital form, and is spreading like sexually transmitted infections are, which has amplified its transmission around the world” , Heymann said.

He said the WHO meeting was convened “due to the urgency of the situation”.

The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, the WHO’s highest form of alert, which currently applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Heymann said the international committee of experts, which met via video conference, reviewed what needed to be investigated about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is a asymptomatic spread, who is most at risk and what are the different routes of transmission. transmission are.

He said close contact was the main route of transmission of the virus because typical lesions of the disease are highly contagious.

For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as well as health care workers, which is why some countries have started inoculating teams treating monkeypox patients with vaccines against monkeypox. smallpox, a related virus.

Many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.

Spanish authorities are investigating whether parties on the tourist island of Gran Canaria were the source of several monkeypox infections, the daily El País reported on Saturday, citing health sector sources.

Around 80,000 people from Spain and other countries attended the Maspalomas Gay Pride festival which ran from May 5 to 15, the newspaper wrote.

Men from Madrid, Italy and the neighboring island of Tenerife who have tested positive for the virus are said to have taken part in the festival celebrations.

Early genomic sequencing of a handful of cases in Europe suggested similarity to the strain which spread limitedly to the UK, Israel and Singapore in 2018.

Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” that the virus has since circulated outside countries where it is endemic but has not led to major outbreaks due to related lockdowns, distancing and travel restrictions. to COVID-19.

He pointed out that the monkeypox outbreak was not like the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it is not as easily transmitted.

Those who suspect they may have been exposed or are showing symptoms, including the typical bumpy rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others, he said.

“There are vaccines available but the most important message is that you can protect yourself,” he added.

By Jennifer Rigby in London with reporting from DPA

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