Monkeypox: Health agency urges people to look out for symptoms
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Harun Tulunay, a sexual health advocate who was hospitalised with monkeypox in London earlier this month, said: “I remember clearly … saying that ‘I think I’m going to die,’ because I can’t eat, I can’t drink. I can’t even swallow my own spit.”
Mr Tulunay has since recovered, but with cases currently doubling every two weeks, the WHO is concerned it might take several months for the outbreak to peak.
WHO Europe has forecast just over 27,000 monkeypox cases in 88 countries by August 2, up from 18,000 cases in 75 countries at the latest count.
Anne Rimoin, a member of the WHO expert committee on monkeypox that met last week to determine whether the outbreak constituted a global health emergency, said: “We have to get in front of this.
“It’s clear the window of opportunity for doing so is closing.”
Monkeypox has been a globally neglected public health problem in parts of Africa for decades, but cases began to be reported outside countries where it is endemic in May.
Five people have died in the current outbreak, all of them in Africa.
Beyond Africa, monkeypox is spreading chiefly in men who have sex with men, putting sexual health clinics on alert for new cases.
It generally causes mild to moderate symptoms, including fever, fatigue and the hallmark painful skin lesions, that resolve within a few weeks.
Prof Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the University of California, told Reuters: “The alarm bell was going off (in Africa) but we kept hitting the snooze button. Now it’s time to wake up and do something about it.
“An infection anywhere is potentially an infection everywhere.”
More than 3,800 monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States, the most of any country around the globe, government health data shows.
According to data published online by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 3,846 confirmed or suspected monkeypox cases in the US as of 25 July – a number ahead of Spain’s, where 3,105 cases have so far been reported.
Germany, with 2,352 cases, and the UK, with 2,208, are next.
A majority of WHO committee members voted against making monkeypox a global emergency last week.
However, in an unprecedented step, Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared an emergency anyway, arguing the outbreak had spread around the world rapidly and he had decided that it was indeed of international concern.
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Dr Tedros said: “The WHO’s assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region, where we assess the risk as high.”
He added that the declaration would help speed up the development of vaccines and the implementation of measures to limit the spread of the virus.
The WHO is also issuing recommendations that it hopes will spur countries to take action to stop transmission of the virus and protect those most at risk.
Dr Tedros told a press conference in Geneva: “This is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups.”
On Tuesday, health officials in the UK updated the case definition of monkeypox to include new symptoms associated with the disease.
A single lesion or lesions on the genitals, anus and surrounding area, lesions in the mouth, and anal pain or bleeding, especially if the individual has had a new sexual partner recently, have all been identified as symptoms of the viral infection by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Most people experience mild symptoms but it can cause a significant illness in some, requiring hospitalisation, including for severe pain, the UKHSA added.
Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at UKHSA, said: “We continue to see new diagnoses of monkeypox, passed on primarily through close or sexual contact.
“We have updated our case definitions to reflect the clinical presentations that have been seen during this outbreak.
“If you think you have monkeypox, stay at home and contact 111 or your local sexual health service for advice.”
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