Monkeypox outbreak ‘not normal’: WHO as UAE, Czech Republic report first cases

New Delhi: Health authorities in the United Arab Emirates and the Czech Republic on Tuesday (May 25, 2022) detected their country’s first case of the monkeypox virus. In the UAE, the case of the viral disease was confirmed in a woman who traveled from West Africa, while in the Czech Republic, it was found in a woman returning from a festival in Belgium.

The Czech Republic’s National Institute of Public Health (SZU) said that a sample from one of three people tested had been positive for Monkeypox disease, although final testing results would be confirmed next week. The two other suspected patients` tests were also still being worked on.

The infected woman had attended a music festival in Antwerp at the start of May and began showing symptoms after her return, Reuters reported.

ALSO READ | Monkeypox disease outbreak: New cases ‘only tip of iceberg’, warns WHO

In the UAE, the government said little about the patient but stressed that authorities were investigating her contacts and taking all necessary measures to limit the spread of the monkeypox virus. They also did not say where the case had been discovered.

The diagnosis of the monkeypox virus in the UAE marked the first reported case on the Arabian Peninsula. Israel, notably, recorded the first reported case in the Middle East earlier this week

MONKEYPOX SUSPECTED, CONFIRMED IN 19 COUNTRIES

Since early May, health authorities in as many as 19 countries have found around 237 suspected and confirmed cases of monkeypox, according to Reuters. The majority of these infections have been discovered in Europe and officials around the world are keeping watch for more cases because, for the first time, the rare disease appears to be spreading among people who didn’t travel to Africa, where monkeypox is endemic. 

Scientists, however, believe that the risk to the general population is low and do not expect the recent monkeypox outbreak to evolve into a pandemic like Covid-19, given the virus does not spread as easily as SARS-COV-2.

MONKEYPOX DISEASE OUTBREAK ‘NOT NORMAL’

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, said on Tuesday that the outbreak of monkeypox cases outside of Africa can be contained.

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

The recent outbreak was “not normal”, she said and stressed that it was “containable”.

There are also vaccines and treatments available for monkeypox, Briand added and called for appropriate containment measures, more research, and global collaboration.

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

WHAT IS MONKEYPOX VIRUS?

Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates and occasionally jumps to people. It belongs to the same virus family as smallpox. Most human cases have been in central and west Africa and outbreaks have been relatively limited.

It is said to be first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a ‘pox-like’ disease in research monkeys, thus the name monkeypox. The first known human infection was in 1970, in a young boy in a remote part of Congo.

WHAT LED TO THE LATEST MONKEYPOX OUTBREAK?

A top adviser to the World Health Organization said on Monday that the leading theory is that monkeypox was likely spread after sexual activity at two recent raves in Europe.

Dr David Heymann, who chairs WHO’s expert advisory group on infectious hazards, said monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with someone already infected with the disease, and that “it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission.”

ALSO READ | WHO says no evidence monkeypox virus has mutated

Authorities in countries including Britain, Spain, Germany, and Portugal say most of the known cases in Europe have been among men who have sex with men, but experts emphasise that anyone can be infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothing, or bedsheets.

Scientists, however, say that it will be difficult to determine whether the spread is being driven by sex or merely close contact.

WHY ARE MOST OF THE MONKEYPOX INFECTIONS IN MEN WHO HAVE SEX WITH MEN?

It’s unclear, but the disease is more likely to infect gay and bisexual men than anyone else.

“This may just be unlucky that (monkeypox) happened to get into this one particular community first,” the PTI news agency quoted Dr Jake Dunning, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Oxford, as saying. 

“It’s just that they are a community and by having sex with each other, that is how it’s spreading,” he said.

Other experts warn that the disease could spread more widely if measures aren’t taken to stop the outbreak.

“Infectious diseases don’t care about borders or social networks. Some groups may have a greater chance of exposure right now, but by no means is the current risk of exposure to monkeypox exclusive to men who have sex with men,” a US scientist said.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF MONKEYPOX?

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more serious illnesses may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.

Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalised, monkeypox can be fatal for up to 6% of cases and is thought to be more severe in children.

HOW MANY MONKEYPOX CASES ARE THERE TYPICALLY?

As per the World Health Organization, there are thousands of monkeypox infections in about a dozen African countries every year. Most are in Congo, which reports about 6,000 cases annually, and Nigeria, with about 3,000 cases a year.

In the past, isolated cases of monkeypox have been spotted outside Africa, including in the US And Britain. The cases were mostly linked to travel in Africa or contact with animals from areas where the disease is more common.

In 2003, 47 people in six US States had confirmed or probable cases. They reportedly caught the virus from pet prairie dogs that been housed near imported small mammals from Ghana.

(With agency inputs)

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