The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, May 24, that the current outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa is “not normal,” but it is “containable.”
The WHO documented 131 confirmed cases since Tuesday morning. It is also currently monitoring 106 suspected cases. The virus is now present in 19 non-African countries, mainly in Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO Director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, implored member states at a press conference to “increase the surveillance of monkeypox to see where transmission levels are and understand where it is going.”
The public health organization’s characterization of the outbreak as “containable” follows its cautioning to member states against unnecessary mass vaccination campaigns.
Richard Pebody, leader of the WHO’s high-threat pathogen team in Europe, told Reuters that good hygiene and safe sexual behavior should effectively control the spread of the disease.
He added that monkeypox vaccines have significant side effects and that contact tracing and isolation should be the primary measures by which countries contain the virus.
Monkeypox transmits primarily through physical contact with infected bodily fluids, lesions, and contaminated materials like bedding. It is also possible to transmit the virus through respiratory droplet particles; however, prolonged face-to-face contact is usually required.
Public health officials and researchers were initially alarmed by the outbreak’s scope, considering monkeypox is not incredibly contagious like COVID-19. Many of the people infected had never traveled to any endemic regions in Africa.
WHO officials now believe monkeypox is spreading through sexual contact in North America and Europe. The most recent surge in cases “appears to have been spread among men who have sex with other men.” However, this does not mean monkeypox is a sexually-transmitted disease.
“Many diseases can be spread through sexual contact. You could get a cough or a cold through sexual contact,” said Andy Seale, an advisor to the WHO.
The general preventative measures advised to avert COVID-19 infection protect against monkeypox. However, one crucial difference is that the monkeypox virus can survive on surfaces for more extended periods of time.