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The The World Health Organization declared the international outbreak of monkeypox a global emergency on Saturday.a decision that underscores concerns about the rapid spread of infections, The Washington Post reported.
The decision to label the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, the highest level of alert the WHO can issue, is expected to raise new funding and pressure governments to take action. More than 16,500 cases have been reported in 75 countries.
“In short, we have an outbreak that has spread rapidly around the world through new modes of transmission about which we know very little,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Saturday.
The emergency declaration came after a second meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, who refused to take the plunge a month ago.
The committee remained divided on whether the outbreak constituted an emergency,
Adhanom Ghebreyesus took the unusual step of declaring an emergency anyway. Some experts and public health advocates criticized the decision not to issue the highest alert sooner, saying a declaration would have improved global coordination to contain the virus.
The monkeypox has spread around the world at an unprecedented rate in the last two months. The zoonotic virus, which causes flu-like symptoms and rashes that spread over the body, has been around for decades and is endemic in parts of Africa.
But infections during the latest outbreak have increased in countries that have historically not reported monkeypox.
Infections in the ongoing outbreak are overwhelmingly reported among men who have sex with men, and experts believe close contact during sexual activity is a major factor in transmission.
The virus is spread through other forms of skin-to-skin contact and in households through prolonged respiratory spread and the sharing of contaminated items. Authorities have also reported a small number of women and children infected with monkeypox.
Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the outbreak can be stopped if countries work with communities of men who have sex with men to contain the virus, stressing that the world must avoid stigmatizing the group.
Few deaths have been reported, although some men have been hospitalized with excruciating pain related to injuries near the genitals.
Spain leads the world in confirmed cases with more than 3,100 infections, according to tracking by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The United States has the second-highest count at almost 2,900, with Germany and the United Kingdom each reporting more than 2,200 infections.
On Friday, health authorities reported the first two cases of monkeypox in children in the US.
The pediatric cases, detected this week in an infant and toddler, are likely the result of household transmission, according to the CDC.
The WHO move is not likely to have a direct effect on the US response.
But it could pressure the Biden administration to declare monkeypox a public health emergency, which could result in increased funding and force states and local authorities to report more data to the CDC.