WHO says monkeypox ‘containable’ as more countries launch limited vaccination campaigns

This electron microscopic (EM) image depicted a monkeypox virion, obtained from a clinical sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. It was a thin section image from of a human skin sample. On the left were mature, oval-shaped virus particles, and on the right were the crescents, and spherical particles of immature virions. High Resolution: Click here for hi-resolution image (5.21 MB) Content Providers(s): CDC/ Cynthia S. Goldsmith Creation Date: 2003 Photo Credit: Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regnery

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the outbreak of monkeypox cases currently sweeping countries throughout the West can be contained.

The announcement comes as more governments say they will launch limited vaccination drives to combat the rising number of infections from the virus, which has traditionally only been found in parts of central and western Africa.

Globally, health authorities have investigated 237 suspected and confirmed cases of the virus in 19 countries since early May.

Though WHO officials say that number will likely rise, most of the infections so far have not been severe.

Scientists do not expect the outbreak to evolve into a pandemic like COVID-19, given the virus does not spread as easily as SARS-COV-2.

The usually mild viral infection spreads mainly through close physical contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases has raised alarm bells. Cases have been reported throughout Europe, North America and, most recently, in Israel.

On Tuesday, England reported 14 new cases, taking its total to 70 since May 7 while the United Arab Emirates and the Czech Republic also registered their first outbreaks of the virus.

“We encourage you all to increase the surveillance of monkeypox to see where transmission levels are and understand where it is going,” said Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness.

She stressed that while the outbreak was “not normal”, it could still very much be contained.

There are vaccines and treatments available for monkeypox.

Birand called for appropriate containment measures, more research, and global collaboration to halt the spread.

“Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill,” she said speaking at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The WHO is working on new guidance for countries on vaccination strategies and is convening further meetings to support member states with more advice on how to tackle the situation.

TARGETED VACCINATIONS

Some governments are already taking precautionary measures to protect people who may have been exposed to the virus.

On Tuesday, health authorities in France recommended that at-risk adults who have been in contact with a confirmed monkeypox case, as well as health staff exposed to an infected person, should be vaccinated.

Denmark, where two cases of the virus have been registered, has undertaken a similar approach, providing vaccines to close contacts of those who were infected.

The vaccine being deployed is produced by Bavarian Nordic. It is branded Jynneos in the United States, where it is approved for use against smallpox and monkeypox. It is also approved for smallpox in Europe, where it is called Imvanex, but has been provided for off-label use in response to monkeypox cases.

Germany has ordered 40,000 doses to be ready to deploy on contacts of those infected if an outbreak in the country becomes more severe.

But for now, officials said they were banking on other precautionary measures.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the outbreak could be contained with early intervention and did not signal the start of a new pandemic, and a senior WHO official gave similar guidance on Monday.

U.S. health officials were on Monday preparing to release some Jynneos doses. British authorities were the first to take such action, offering vaccines to some healthcare workers and others who may have been exposed to monkeypox last week.

NO MUTATION

These prevention measures come as scientists seek get a clearer picture about how the virus is being transmitted and who might be most at risk.

Briand reiterated the WHO’s view that it was unlikely that the virus has mutated but said transmission might be being driven by a change in human behavior, particularly as people return to socializing as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted worldwide.

Health experts are on the lookout for concerning mutations that could make the virus more easily transmissible or more severe.

Symptoms include a fever and a distinctive bumpy rash. The West African strain of monkeypox, which is the one identified in the current outbreak, has a mortality rate of around one percent.