The Monkeypox outbreak is spreading primarily through sex, WHO officials say

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An outbreak of the monkeypox virus in North America and Europe is spreading primarily through sex among men with around 200 confirmed and suspected cases in at least a dozen countries, World Health Organization officials said Monday.

The outbreak has rapidly advanced in Europe and North America over the past week and is expected to be much more prevalent as more doctors look for signs and symptoms. Two confirmed and one suspected cases of monkeypox in the UK were reported to WHO just 10 days ago, the first cases this year outside of Africa, where the virus has generally circulated at low levels over the past 40 years. , the organization said.

‘In the past five years we have seen a few cases in Europe, only among travelers, but this is the first time we see cases in many countries at the same time in people who have not traveled to the endemic regions of Africa,’ said Dr. Rosamund Lewis, who manages WHO smallpox research, in a question-and-answer session broadcast live on the organization’s social media channels.

According to the German military, European nations have confirmed dozens of cases in what has become the largest monkeypox epidemic ever to occur on the continent. The United States and Canada have at least five confirmed or suspected cases so far. Belgium has just introduced a mandatory 21-day quarantine for monkeypox patients.

WHO has convened an emergency meeting this weekend by videoconference to examine the virus, identify those most at risk and study its transmission. The organization will hold a second global meeting on monkeypox next week to further investigate the risks and treatments available to fight the virus.

Although the virus itself is not a sexually transmitted infection, which generally spreads through semen and vaginal fluids, the most recent increase in cases appears to have been prevalent among men who have sex with other men, said the WHO officials, pointing out that anyone can contract monkeypox.

“Many diseases can be transmitted through sexual contact. You may get a cough or cold through sexual contact, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sexually transmitted disease,” said Andy Seale, who advises WHO on HIV. hepatitis and other sexually transmitted infections.

The virus is spread through close contact with people, animals or material infected with the virus. It enters the body through the injured skin, airways, eyes, nose and mouth. Although human-to-human transmission is also believed to occur through respiratory droplets, this method requires prolonged face-to-face contact because the droplets cannot travel more than a few feet, according to the CDC.

“This is a super stable virus outside of the human host, so it can live on objects like blankets and things like that,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC in a separate interview Monday on “Squawk Box.” “And so you can see situations where people become reluctant to try on clothes, things like that, where it could become disruptive in areas where it’s spreading, like New York City.”

He said he expects more confirmed cases in the United States in the coming weeks as doctors and public health officials re-evaluate patients who have experienced symptoms and the virus continues to spread.

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Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus from the same family as smallpox, but it’s not that serious, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, monkeypox can kill up to 1 in 10 people who contract the disease, based on observations in Africa, according to the CDC.

The vaccine used to prevent smallpox appears to be about 85 percent effective in protecting against monkeypox in observational research in Africa, WHO officials said. But vaccines aren’t widely available, so it’s important to reserve them for populations most at risk, said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s lead epidemiologist on zoonotic diseases. She said WHO will work with vaccine manufacturers to see if they can increase production.

Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, back pain, body aches, and low energy, WHO officials said. Which then progresses to a rash on the face, hands, feet, eyes, mouth, or genitals that turns into raised bumps, or papules, which then become blisters that often resemble chickenpox. These can then fill with a white fluid, becoming a pustule, which ruptures and peels off.

Gottlieb described it as a disabling disease that can last for two to four months and has a long incubation period of 21 days.

“I don’t think this will be uncontrolled in the same way we tolerated the Covid-19 outbreak,” Gottlieb said. “But there is a possibility that this has now entered the community if in fact it is more pervasive than what we are measuring right now, it becomes difficult to eliminate.”

– CNBC Spencer Kimball And Karen Gilchrist contributed to this article.

Disclosure: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC associate and board member of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus, health technology company Aetion, and biotechnology company Illumina. He is also co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean’s “Healthy Sail Panel”.

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