GENEVA, May 25 (BNA) – The outbreak of monkeypox virus cases outside Africa can be contained, the World Health Organization said today, Tuesday, as more governments said they would release limited vaccines to combat the increasing infections with the virus.
The moves come as authorities have investigated 237 suspected and confirmed cases of the virus in 19 countries since early May, Reuters reported.
That number is expected to rise, WHO officials said, but most infections so far have not been severe.
Scientists do not expect an outbreak to develop into a pandemic like COVID-19, since the virus does not spread as easily as SARS-COV-2.
Monkeypox is usually a mild viral infection and is endemic in parts of West and Central Africa.
It spreads mainly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, is rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases has raised alarms. The majority were reported in Europe.
On Tuesday, England reported 14 new cases of infection, bringing the total number to 70 since May 7, and the United Arab Emirates and the Czech Republic recorded the first injuries.
“We encourage all of you to increase monitoring of monkeypox to see where transmission levels are and to understand where it is heading,” said Sylvie Briand, WHO Director of Preparedness for Global Infectious Hazards.
While she said the outbreak was “not normal”, she stressed that it “can be contained.”
There are also vaccines and treatments available for monkeypox, she added, calling for appropriate containment measures, more research, and global cooperation.
“Let’s not make a mountain out of a hill,” said a spokeswoman at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.
The World Health Organization is working on new guidance for countries on vaccination strategies and is holding other meetings to support member states with more advice on how to tackle the situation.
Some countries are already taking precautionary measures to provide protection to people who may have been exposed to the virus.
France’s health authority on Tuesday recommended vaccinating at-risk adults who have had contact with someone with monkeypox and health staff exposed to an infected patient.
The Danish health authority told public radio DR. The country recorded two cases.
The published vaccine is produced by the Bavarian company Nordic. It bears the Jynneos trademark in the United States where it has been approved for use against smallpox and monkeys. It is also approved for smallpox in Europe, where it is called Imvanex, but has been made available for off-label use in response to cases of monkeypox.
Germany has ordered 40,000 doses to be ready to be disseminated to infected contacts if the country’s outbreak becomes more severe.
But for now, officials said they are counting on other precautionary measures.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the outbreak could be contained with early intervention and did not signal the start of a new pandemic, and a senior WHO official provided similar guidance on Monday.
On Monday, US health officials were preparing to release some doses of Jynneos.
British authorities were the first to take such action, providing vaccinations to some health care workers and others who may have been exposed to monkeypox last week.
These moves come as scientists seek to understand more about the means of transmission and who is most at risk.
Briand repeated the WHO’s view that the virus was unlikely to have mutated, but said its transmission could be driven by a change in human behaviour, particularly as people return to social contact as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted worldwide.
Health experts are watching for worrying spikes that could make the virus more accessible or severe.
Many, but not all, cases have been reported in men who have had sex with men, and Briand said it’s especially important to try to prevent sexual transmission.
Symptoms include fever and a characteristic bumpy rash. The mortality rate among the West African strain of monkeypox, which was identified in the current outbreak, is about 1%.