A key adviser to the World Health Organization has described the unprecedented outbreak ofas “a random phenomenon” in developed countries that can be explained by risky sexual behavior in two recent mass incidents in Europe.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr David Heyman, formerly the head of the WHO’s emergency department, said that the leading theory to explain the spread of the disease was between gay and bisexual men in two raves conducted in Spain and Belgium. There was sexual transmission. Monkeypox has not previously triggered widespread outbreaks beyond Africa, where it is endemic in animals.
“We know that monkeypox can be spread when there is close contact with the sores of an infected person, and it appears that sexual contact has now increased that transmission,” Heyman said.
This marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are primarily infected by animals such as wild rodents and primates and outbreaks do not spread across borders.
To date, the WHO has reported more than 90 cases of monkeypox in a dozen countries, including the UK, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, Australia and the US.
In the US, as of now, the CDC says there is a, There are also suspected cases in Broward County, Florida and New York City.
The virus is spread through body fluids, skin and respiratory droplets. “It’s important to know that this virus really requires close personal contact,” said Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. John LaPook that it’s unusual that we’re seeing cases in multiple countries at the same time: “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
The Spanish capital has so far recorded 30 confirmed cases, a senior Madrid health official said on Monday. Enrique Ruiz Escudero said authorities are investigating possible links between a recent Gay Pride event in the Canary Islands, which involved nearly 80,000 people, and cases at the Madrid sauna.
Heyman chaired an urgent meeting of the WHO’s Advisory Group on Infectious Disease Threats on Friday to assess the ongoing pandemic and said there was no evidence that monkeypox could mutate into a more contagious form.
Monkeypox usually causes fever, chills, rash and sores on the face or genitals. It can be spread through close contact with an infected person or their clothing or sheets, but sexual transmission has not yet been documented. Most people recover from the disease within several weeks without the need for hospitalization. Vaccines against smallpox, a related disease, are also effective in preventing monkeypox and some antiviral drugs are being developed.
In recent years, the disease has been fatal in up to 6% of infections, but there are currently no deaths. The WHO said the confirmed cases so far belong to the less severe West African group of monkeypox virus and appear to be linked to a virus that first appeared in cases exported from Nigeria to the UK, Israel and Singapore in 2018-2019 was found.
The UN agency said the outbreak is “a highly unusual event” and said the fact that cases are being seen in several different countries suggests that the disease may have been spreading silently for some time. The agency’s Europe director warned that as summer begins across the continent, mass gatherings, festivals and parties could accelerate the spread of monkeypox.
Other scientists have pointed out that it will be difficult to separate whether it is sex itself or close contact related to sex that has recently driven the spread of monkeypox across Europe.
“By nature, sexual activity involves intimate contact, which would be expected to increase the likelihood of transmission, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation and mode of transmission,” said Mike Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London.
On Sunday, Dr. Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for Britain’s Health Protection Agency, said she expected more cases of monkeypox to be identified in the country “on a daily basis”.
UK officials have said a “significant proportion” of cases in the UK and Europe have been among young people with no history of travel to Africa and who are gay, bisexual or having sex with men. Authorities in Portugal and Spain also said their cases were mostly in men who had sex with other men and whose infection was picked up when they sought help for wounds at sexual health clinics.
Heyman, who is also a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the monkeypox outbreak was a random event that could be traceable to a single infection.
Heyman hypothesized, “It is very possible that someone who has become infected developed sores on the genitals, hands, or elsewhere, and then spread it to others through sexual or close, physical contact. ” “And then there were these international events that led to outbreaks around the world, in the US and other European countries.”
He stressed that it is unlikely to trigger widespread transmission of the disease.
“It’s not COVID,” he said. “We need to slow it down, but it doesn’t spread through the air and we have vaccines to protect against it.” Heyman said studies should be conducted rapidly to determine whether monkeypox can be spread by people without symptoms and that those at risk for the disease should take precautions to protect themselves.
CBS News’ Dr. LaPook agreed.
“It should be taken seriously, and it is being taken seriously by public health officials,” LaPook said. “But remember, this is very different from COVID. When the pandemic started, SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, we didn’t know anything about it, it was a completely new virus. We had There was no medicine, we didn’t have vaccines, we didn’t know anything about that disease.
“It’s very different. We’ve known about monkeypox for over 60 years. There are vaccines, there are therapeutics, we have a lot of experience dealing with it, certainly in Africa.”
Furthermore, he said, “At the beginning of the pandemic, it was spreading without people realizing it; they were asymptomatic. [Monkeypox] A characteristic rash. It would be hard for us to spread widely without knowing about it.”