The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday acknowledged that it is too early to confidently say whether the recent outbreak of monkeypox cases will eventually lead to a global pandemic like Covid-19.
However, the global health agency noted that the risks to the general public remain relatively low. “We don’t want people to panic or be afraid and think that it’s like Covid or maybe worse,” Sylvie Briand, the WHO’s director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said during a briefing. “This monkeypox disease is not Covid-19, it is a different virus,” she continued.
According to CNBC, there currently are more than 430 confirmed and suspected cases in twenty-four countries outside of Africa. Of those infections, fourteen are confirmed or suspected across eight U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There has yet to be a confirmed fatality from the current outbreak.
The recent surge in monkeypox cases is believed to be highly unusual due to the fact that they are occurring in North American and European countries where the virus is not endemic. Monkeypox is generally found in Central and West African rainforests, where animals that carry the virus live. Animal hosts include a range of rodents and non-human primates.
According to the WHO, monkeypox is a viral illness that begins with flu-like symptoms and the swelling of lymph nodes, eventually progressing to rashes on the face, hands, feet, eyes, mouth, or genitals that turn into raised bumps which then become blisters. The virus is most easily spread via open contact with the sores of an infected individual. It can also spread through contact with materials that have the virus on it, such as shared bedding and clothing.
WHO officials have stated that the virus itself is not a sexually transmitted infection, but the recent outbreak appears to have been spread among men who have sex with other men. They also emphasized that anyone—regardless of sexual orientation—can contract the disease.
“We are concerned that individuals may acquire this infection through high-risk exposure if they don't have the information they need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Rosamund Lewis, the WHO's technical lead for monkeypox, per ABC News. However, “collectively, the world has an opportunity to stop this outbreak. There's a window of opportunity where this can be contained,” she concluded.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.