WHO sounds highest level of alarm for monkeypox
The World Health Organization sounded its highest level of alarm for monkeypox on Saturday, declaring it a “public health emergency of international concern”. The same statement was used for Covid-19 in January 2020.
The threat level, however, is moderate for all regions of the world except Europe, where it is rated high.
Over 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 75 countries. India has reported three cases of virus disease from Kerala, with the Union Health Ministry issuing guidelines for its surveillance. Earlier this week, the ministry asked port authorities to carry out strict screening of international travelers and to coordinate with agencies such as immigration services at international ports and airports to streamline health screening processes in addition ensure links with dedicated hospital facilities at each point of entry.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on Saturday said: “The WHO assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region where we assess the risk as high. There is also a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remains low at this time. So, in short, we we have an epidemic that has spread rapidly around the world, via new modes of transmission, of which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria of the International Health Regulations.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) July 23, 2022
He added: “For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global outbreak of monkeypox represents a public health emergency of international concern.”
Last month, 3,040 cases had been reported in 47 countries.
The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, which met on Thursday to consider the new figures, however, did not reach consensus on declaring a public health emergency.
Yet WHO made the statement based on reported cases in several countries, meeting the three criteria for such a statement (a serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected situation; carries public health implications beyond border of the affected State; and may require immediate international action), and the risk to human health, international spread and the potential for interference with international traffic.
So far, five people have died from the infection.
This is the seventh time that the highest alarm level has been used since 2009. These are the oldest cases: H1N1 pandemic (2009), increase in poliomyelitis cases (2014), Ebola outbreak in West Africa West (2014), Zika virus epidemic (2015-16), Ebola epidemic in Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2018-20) and Covid-19.
Monkeypox is a viral infection that is transmitted mainly from animals to humans, previously with limited transmission in humans because the smallpox vaccine used for eradication of the disease also protected against monkeypox. The first human case was reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and subsequently became endemic in several countries in West and Central Africa.
Monkeypox is spread from person to person through close contact with someone who has a monkeypox rash, but now scientists are also investigating whether the disease is sexually transmitted with cases being diagnosed in men who have sex with men.
The most common symptoms of monkeypox are fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, lack of energy and swollen lymph nodes, as well as rashes that last two to three weeks. It is a self-limiting disease, but can lead to death, especially in children and people with weakened immune systems. Complications of infection include pneumonia, secondary skin infections, confusion, and eye problems.
Dr Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s lead expert on monkeypox, told the press conference that transmission patterns of the infection had changed over the years with the emergence of longer chains of transmission. She said: “The hypothesis is – and this remains to be confirmed – when the virus moved into the post-Covid world where people were able to travel again, it established itself in a group that has frequent social gatherings and also has frequent events involving intimate physical and sexual contact, and sometimes sexual contact with multiple partners over a period of days or weeks. In addition, it is also traditionally a population with proactive health-seeking behavior.