Europe remains monkeypox outbreak epicenter, says UN

Mass vaccination not recommended for disease, says WHO Europe chief Hans Kluge

Peter Kenny   | 15.06.2022
Europe remains monkeypox outbreak epicenter, says UN


Europe remains the epicenter of a growing monkeypox outbreak, with 25 countries reporting more than 1,500 or 85% of the cases, a regional head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

Hans Kluge, WHO's Europe director, said at a press conference the disease poses a real risk with a need to act with urgency.

He said the global health body will convene an emergency committee next week.

The meeting will advise on whether the current spread of monkeypox in non-endemic countries constitutes a public health emergency of international concern like COVID-19.

"The magnitude of this outbreak poses a real risk; the longer the virus circulates, the more it will extend its reach, and the stronger the disease's foothold will get in non-endemic countries," said Kluge.

"Governments, health partners, and civil society need to act with urgency and together to control this outbreak."

No deaths from monkeypox have been reported in non-endemic countries, he said.

There currently are limited amounts of vaccines and antivirals for monkeypox and limited data on their use.

No need for mass vaccination

"Mass vaccination is not recommended or needed at this time," said the WHO regional head.

"Targeted vaccination, either before or after exposure to the virus, can benefit contacts of patients, including health care workers. Yet, we're already seeing a rush in some quarters to acquire and stockpile these."

Kluge explained that for decades, monkeypox has been endemic in parts of West and Central Africa -- and for decades, it has been neglected by the rest of the world.

"Now that it's in Europe and elsewhere, we have seen yet again how a challenge in one part of the world can so easily and quickly be a challenge for all of us."

Among the basic steps to counter the disease are enhanced surveillance, contact tracing, infection prevention, and control.

Strong surveillance and diagnostic systems in several European countries and swift information-sharing mechanisms have ensured that the outbreak has been rapidly reported and communicated, said Kluge.

"So far in Europe, the majority – though not all – of reported patients have been among men who have sex with men," said Kluge.

"Many – but not all patients report multiple and sometimes anonymous sexual partners. Identifying, tracing, and notifying sexual partners quickly is therefore often difficult but remains critical to stopping onwards spread."

No specific group

Kluge stressed, however, that the monkeypox virus is not in itself attached to any specific group.

"Stigmatizing certain populations undermines the public health response as we have seen time and again in contexts as diverse as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and COVID-19," said the WHO official.

"Monkeypox will be opportunistic in its fight for survival, and its spread will depend on the conditions provided to it."

On Tuesday, the WHO head, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said the health body is working with partners and worldwide experts on changing the name of the monkeypox virus, its clades, and the disease it causes.

The European countries with monkeypox cases are Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Worldwide, the WHO knows of more than 1,600 confirmed cases of monkeypox in 39 countries – including seven countries where monkeypox has been detected for years, and 32 newly-affected countries.

Cases were also reported in the US, Mexico, Morocco, UAE, and Australia.

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