A top adviser to the World Health Organization described the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox in developed countries as “a random event” that could be explained by sexual behavior at two recent electronic music parties, or ravesin Europe.
Dr. David Heymann, who previously headed the WHO’s emergency department, told The Associated Press that The main theory to explain the spread of the disease was sexual transmission in women. raves held in Spain and Belgium. Monkeypox has not previously caused widespread outbreaks beyond Africa, where it is endemic in animals.
“Sexual contact has now amplified that transmission”
“We know that monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone infectedand it appears that sexual contact has now amplified that transmission,” Heymann said.
This marks a significant change from the typical pattern of spread of the disease in West and Central Africa, where people are mainly infected through animals such as wild rodents and primates, and outbreaks have not crossed borders.
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Sex or close contact?
Health authorities claim that most known cases in Europe have been among men who have sex with men, but anyone can get infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothes, or their sheets. Scientists say it will be difficult to unravel whether the spread is due to sexual intercourse or mere close contact.
“By nature, sexual activity involves intimate contact, which would be expected to increase the likelihood of transmission, whatever a person’s sexual orientation and regardless of the mode of transmission,” said Mike Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London.
On Monday, the director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Andrea Ammon, stated that “the probability that the virus will continue to spread through close contact, for example during sexual activities between people with multiple sexual partners, is considered high.”
WHO: 90 cases of monkeypox
Till the date, The WHO has recorded more than 90 cases of monkeypox in a dozen countries, including Canada, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, the United States and Australia.. On Monday, Denmark announced its first case,
Portugal revised its total up to 37, Italy reported a new infection and the UK added 37 more cases.
Germany has four confirmed cases related to exposure at “party events … where there was sexual activity” in Spain’s Canary Islands and in Berlin, according to a government report to lawmakers obtained by the AP.
Madrid’s top health official said Monday that the Spanish capital had 30 confirmed cases. Enrique Ruiz Escudero said authorities are investigating possible links between a recent Gay Pride event in the Canary Islands, which drew some 80,000 people, and the cases at a Madrid sauna.
The UN denounces racist and homophobic reports
For its part, the United Nations AIDS agency described this Sunday (05.22.2022) as racist and homophobic some reports on the monkeypox viruswarning that they exacerbate stigma and undermine the response to the growing outbreak.
UNAIDS said “a significant proportion” of recent monkeypox cases have been identified among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
But transmission is most likely through close physical contact with a monkeypox patient and can affect anyone, he added, saying some portrayals of Africans and LGBTI people “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbate stigma.”
“Stigma and guilt undermine trust and the ability to respond effectively during outbreaks like this one,” said UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Matthew Kavanagh.
“Experience shows that stigmatizing rhetoric can quickly deactivate the evidence-based response, fueling cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, hampering efforts to identify cases and encouraging ineffective and punitive measures.”
Mild cases to date
Cases of monkeypox so far have been mild, with no deaths reported.. The virus typically causes fever, chills, rashes, and lesions on the face or genitals. Most people recover in several weeks without requiring hospitalization.
Vaccines against smallpox, a related disease, are effective in preventing monkeypox, and some antiviral drugs are in development. In recent years, the disease has been fatal in up to 6% of infections.
No evidence of mutation to more infectious forms
Heymann chaired an urgent meeting of the WHO’s advisory group on infectious disease threats on Friday to assess the outbreak, saying there was no evidence to suggest monkeypox had mutated into a more infectious form.
The UN agency called the outbreak “a highly unusual event” and said the fact that cases are being seen in so many different countries suggests the virus may have been spreading quietly for some time. The agency’s director for Europe warned that festivals and parties could accelerate the spread.
Still, in a public session on Monday, WHO officials described the outbreak as “containable” and warned against stigmatizing affected groups, saying the disease can infect anyone.
The agency said the cases appeared to be linked to a monkeypox virus that was first detected in cases exported from Nigeria to Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018 and 2019.
Most cases are young men
Authorities in the UK, Spain and Portugal have said most of the cases identified so far were in young men whose infections were discovered when they sought help for injuries at sexual health clinics.
Heymann, who is also a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the monkeypox outbreak was likely a random event that could be traced to a single infection.
“It’s very possible that someone got infected, developed lesions on their genitals, hands or somewhere else, and then spread it to other people through close physical or sexual contact,” Heymann said. “And then there were these international events that seeded the outbreak all over the world, in the United States and other European countries.”
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“This is not COVID”
He emphasized that the disease is unlikely to trigger widespread transmission. “This is not COVID,” he said. “We have to stop it, but it does not spread in the air and we have vaccines to protect it.”
Heymann said studies must be done quickly to determine whether monkeypox can be transmitted by people without symptoms and that populations at risk of contracting the disease must take precautions to protect themselves.
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