The top monkeypox expert at the World Health Organization said she doesn’t expect the hundreds of cases reported so far to turn into another pandemic, but she acknowledged that there are still many unknowns about the disease, such as how it’s spreading and whether the suspension of mass smallpox vaccination decades ago is speeding up transmission.
Dr. Rosamund Lewis of the World Health Organization said it was critical to emphasize that the vast majority of cases seen in dozens of countries around the world are in gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men, so that scientists can study the issue further and those at risk be cautious.
Lewis, WHO’s technical lead on monkeypox, said.
“It’s critical to describe this because it appears to be an increase in a mode of transmission that has previously gone unnoticed,”
“We are not concerned about a global pandemic at this time,” she said. “We’re concerned that if people don’t have the information they need to protect themselves, they could contract this infection through high-risk exposure.”
She warned that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is at risk of contracting the disease. Other experts have suggested that the disease’s emergence in gay and bisexual men may have been coincidental, and that it could quickly spread to other groups if not addressed. According to the WHO, more than 250 cases have been reported in 23 countries that have never had monkeypox before.
Lewis said it’s unclear whether monkeypox is spread through sex or through close contact between people who engage in sexual activity, and that the risk to the general public is “low.” Monkeypox is spread by close physical contact with an infected person, their clothing, or their bedsheets.
She also cautioned that among the current cases, there is a higher proportion of people with fewer lesions, which are more concentrated in the genital region and can be difficult to see.
“You may have these lesions for two to four weeks (and) they may not be visible to others,” she explained, “but you may still be infectious.”
Last week, a top WHO adviser said the outbreak in Europe, the United States, Israel, Australia, and other parts of the world was most likely caused by sex at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium. This is a significant departure from the disease’s typical spread pattern in central and western Africa, where people are primarily infected by animals such as wild rodents and primates, and epidemics haven’t crossed borders.