The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who declared monkeypox a global health emergency last Saturday, told reporters that the best way to prevent infection is to “reduce the risk of exposure.”
“For MSM, this includes, for the time being, reducing the number of your sexual partners, reconsidering having sex with new partners, and exchanging contact details with any new partners to enable follow-up if necessary,” he said on Wednesday. .
An increase in monkeypox infections has been reported since early May outside West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.
More than 18,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported to the World Health Organization from 78 countries, Tedros said Wednesday, with 70 percent of cases reported in Europe and 25 percent in the Americas.
He said five deaths have been reported in the outbreak since May, and nearly 10 percent of those infected end up in hospital dealing with pain.
Anyone can get monkeypox
About 98 percent of cases occur in men who have sex with men.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week found that 98% of infected men are gay or bisexual men, and 95% of cases are transmitted through sexual activity.
But experts said transmission of the disease, which causes a rash, appears to occur primarily during close physical contact, and monkeypox has not yet been classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Experts also cautioned against thinking that only one community could be affected by the disease, stressing that it spreads through regular skin-to-skin contact, as well as through droplets or contact with contaminated bedding or towels in a home environment.
“Anyone who has been exposed to monkeypox can,” Tedros said, urging countries to “take action” to reduce the risk of transmission to other vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women and those who are immunosuppressed.
The World Health Organization has repeatedly warned of the stigma surrounding the disease, which may discourage sufferers from seeking treatment.
“Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus, and can fuel an outbreak,” Tedros said.
Andy Seal, of the World Health Organization’s Sexually Transmitted Diseases Program, stressed that messages about gay and bisexual men needing to reduce the number of their sexual partners were “coming from the communities themselves”.
But he said this may have been just a “short-term message because we hope the outbreak will, of course, be short-lived”.
He stressed the need to take other measures to reduce the number of cases, including publishing information on symptoms to search for them and the need to isolate them quickly, and access to examinations and medicines.
No comprehensive vaccination
The WHO also recommends targeted vaccination for those who have been exposed to someone with monkeypox or for those at high risk of exposure, including health workers and those with multiple sexual partners.
“Currently, we do not recommend mass vaccination against monkeypox,” Tedros said.
Vaccines initially developed against smallpox – the deadlier cousin of monkeypox that was eradicated more than four decades ago – have been found to protect against the virus, but supplies are in short supply.
Tedros also emphasized that “vaccinating will not provide immediate protection against infection or disease, and it can take several weeks.”
Regarding supply challenges, he said there were about 16 million doses of the main vaccine, from the Danish North Bavarian pharmaceutical company, but most of them were in bulk form.
“They will take several months to fill and finish in ready-to-use vials,” he said, urging countries that have already received doses to share them.
“We must ensure equitable access to vaccines for all individuals and communities affected by monkeypox in all countries, in all regions.”