WHO observes the global emergency of monkeypox; Cases on the rise in Britain and elsewhere in Europe

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LONDON — The World Health Organization is weighing whether to declare monkeypox an international emergency, a decision that could come as soon as Friday. A declaration it could intensify the global response as cases rise rapidly in Britain despite efforts to contain it. Britain, where nearly 800 cases of the virus have been recorded in the past month, has the most reported infections outside of Central and West Africa, and case trends here worry experts across Europe, the epicenter of the outbreakwho are weighing the best approach amid the years-long coronavirus pandemic.

Monkeypox cases rose by almost 40 per cent in Britain in less than five days, according to data shared by the UK Health Security Agency. Starting June 16 574 cases had been recorded, and by June 20, the number had gotten up to 793.

After Britain, Spain, Germany and Portugal have the most recorded cases. And it is a growing threat outside of Europe: more than 3,200 cases have been confirmed in 48 countries in the last six weeks, according to the WHO, which releases data on monkeypox at weekly intervals. As of June 15, one death had been reported.

The WHO’s Emergency Committee on International Health Regulations met Thursday to discuss whether the monkeypox outbreak should be labeled a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” which would mobilize new funding and spur governments to take measures. The new coronavirus, which causes covid-19, was labeled as PHEIC following a similar meeting in January 2020.

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Until now, the response in most European countries has been to focus on outreach to at-risk communities, contact tracing and isolation of known cases of monkeypox. That may change if the WHO, which first The alarm rang on monkeypox infections in countries where the virus is not endemic in May, the threat level of the outbreak increases.

“The emergency committee and then the [WHO] The CEO’s announcement will raise the political level of this,” said David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who attended the meeting as an adviser, he told The Washington Post.

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Monkeypox is spread through close contact and has hitherto mainly affected men who have sex with men. It begins with flu-like symptoms before fluid-filled lumps or lesions appear on the skin, which can leave permanent scarring. Health officials say the latest outbreak has frequently caused genital rashes, and while most cases are mild and patients recover within three weeks, the virus can be fatal and is more risky for pregnant people or those with weakened immune systems.

To contain the outbreak, a broader understanding of its origins is imperative along with vaccination of at-risk groups and contact tracing, experts say, though they note that some patients may not want to divulge information about who they have had intimacy, which can complicate the situation. the public health response.

“One of the difficulties people have in implementing screening is getting a complete list of people’s sexual contacts,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia. “This is exactly the problem we face when we deal with HIV/AIDS early in life. [1990s].”

And, as in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, it is unclear whether cases in some countries are going undetected. Some experts speculate that Britain may have higher numbers because its extensive public health surveillance network allows it to identify more infections.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admitted at the start of Thursday’s meeting, monkeypox is likely to be more widespread than official figures indicate. “Person-to-person transmission continues and is probably underestimated,” he told members of the emergency committee.

The UK has proactively traced people with known cases of monkeypox and, in some cases, distributed smallpox vaccines, which are known to protect against monkeypox infection, to their close contacts and risk groups. In theory, this approach, which Hunter described as “ring vaccination,” “should have worked,” he said.

But as infections have risen and authorities have struggled to “trace contacts of cases early enough to have an impact,” Hunter said he has become “less confident.”

“Unless we turn this around very soon, I think we’re probably going to have to start thinking about what’s next,” he added.

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British health officials said Tuesday that some gay and bisexual men, who are considered to be at higher risk of exposure, will be offered vaccinations to help curb the monkeypox outbreak. The UK Health Security Agency stressed that although the virus is more of a threat “in the sexual networks of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men”, anyone can contract the disease through close contact with an infected person.

Scientists are studying this outbreak and will know more once the virus is sequenced. “We are beginning to understand how widespread [monkeypox] it really is,” Heymann said. “We know it’s widespread in certain populations, and we need to know if it’s spreading in other populations as well.”

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Two years after treating Germany’s first coronavirus patient, Clemens Wendtner treated Germany’s first monkeypox patient in May. The man, who has not been identified, was a sex worker from Brazil, said Wendtner, chief physician for infectious diseases at Munich’s Schwabing clinic.

A handful more monkeypox patients have been treated on his ward in recent weeks, Wendtner said. Some have reported “very painful” rectal injuries, so intravenous painkillers are given to help with the discomfort. Wendtner and her colleagues have been closely tracking their discoveries in the midst of this outbreak, recently documenting their discovery of monkeypox virus DNA. in both semen and blood.

Most of the patients were discharged after about a day and advised to self-isolate for 21 days at home, in accordance with Germany’s infectious disease law. Most of the cases have been reported in Berlin, one of Europe’s party hot spots, which will host Pride events next month.

“Summer season is party season,” he warned, adding that more cases are likely in the coming week and the current outbreak may not yet have peaked.

While men are at significantly higher risk, Wendtner warned that female sex workers could also be in danger. “The risk factor is a pattern of unprotected sex,” she explained.

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Outside of Europe, other countries are also dealing with new cases.

The first case of monkeypox in the United States was detected on May 17. In the last five weeks, more than 100 cases have been added, according to to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California, New York and Illinois are listed as the states with the highest level of infections.

Some experts in the United States they are calling at the White House to implement extensive testing to avoid the failures of the coronavirus pandemic.

Singapore confirmed a case of monkeypox in a British man on Tuesday, the first in Southeast Asia. South Korea also confirmed its first case of monkeypox on Wednesday. The patient is a South Korean citizen who entered the country from Germany, health officials said. On Thursday, South Africa also announced its first case of monkeypox, Reuters reported. The 30-year-old man has no travel history, health experts said, meaning his illness would not have been contracted outside of South Africa.

It’s important to remember, experts say, that this is not a new disease. Monkeypox has been circulating in Africa for decades, leading some to point to double standards in the response to the outbreak in Europe.

“This is a disease that has been neglected,” Heymann said. After smallpox was eradicated In 1980, the world stopped routinely administering smallpox vaccines. Monkeypox, which is less contagious than smallpox, continued to spread in West and Central Africa, but outbreaks there were not fully investigated due to lack of resources, he added.

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The WHO’s Tedros said Thursday that about 1,500 suspected monkeypox cases and about 70 deaths have been reported in central Africa this year. “While the epidemiology and viral clade in these cases may be different, it is a situation that cannot be ignored,” he warned.

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