There will be no monkeypox pandemic, the World Health Organization’s top expert predicted on Monday, but several questions remain unanswered, including exactly how the disease spreads and whether vaccines developed against smallpox several years ago decades could inadvertently accelerate its transmission.
At a public hearing on Monday, Dr. Rosamund Lewis said it is essential to remember that the vast majority of cases detected in dozens of countries have been in gay or bisexual men so that scientists can study the issue further and pay attention to populations at risk can take precautions.
“It’s very important to describe because it appears to be an increase in a mode of transmission that may not have been recognized in the past,” said Dr. Lewis.
Despite everything, he warned that all people are potentially at risk of contracting the disease, regardless of their sexual orientation. Other experts have pointed out that the disease may have been detected in gay and bisexual men for the first time by chance, and could spread to other groups if left unchecked. To date, the WHO says, more than 250 cases have been identified in 23 countries where monkeypox had never before been detected.
Dr. Lewis admitted that it is not known whether monkeypox is transmitted during sexual activity or through close contact during sexual activity. He assures that the risk for the general population is “low”.
“It is not yet known if this virus is exploiting a new mode of transmission, but it is clear that it is still exploiting its known mode of transmission, which is close physical contact,” he said.
Monkeypox is known to spread through close physical contact with the infected person, their clothing, or bedding.
He also warns that we see, in current cases, a higher proportion of people with fewer lesions that are more concentrated in the genital area and sometimes impossible to see.
“You may have these lesions for two to four weeks (and) they may not be visible to others, but you could still be contagious,” Dr. Lewis warned.
Last week, a WHO adviser said outbreaks in Europe, the United States, Australia, and elsewhere are likely linked to sexual activity at two parties in Spain and Belgium.
Most victims of monkeypox experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. The most severe cases develop sores on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body. No deaths are currently reported.
Dr. Lewis said that while previous outbreaks of monkeypox in West and Central Africa have been relatively contained, it is not known whether asymptomatic victims can spread the disease or whether the disease can be transmitted through the air, such as measles or the COVID-19.
Monkeypox is related to smallpox, but its symptoms are milder. After the eradication of smallpox in 1980, countries discontinued their mass vaccination programs. Experts believe this could contribute to the spread of monkeypox, as the population now has little immunity against similar diseases. Smallpox vaccines also protect against monkeypox.
Dr. Lewis said it would be “a shame” if monkeypox could exploit the “immune vacuum” left by smallpox 40 years ago. He said it is still possible to prevent monkeypox from taking hold in new areas.
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