WHO raises its highest alert

“I have decided to declare a public health emergency of international concern regarding monkeypox rash,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference. World risk is relatively moderate except in Europe where it is high.

Dr Tedros explained that the expert panel had failed to reach a consensus. Ultimately the general manager has to decide.

“This is a call to action, but not the first,” said Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies manager, who said he hoped it would lead to collective action against the disease.

Rapid rise

Since it was first discovered outside of Africa in early May, the disease has infected more than 16,836 people in 74 countries as of July 22, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) dashboard. Monkey pox is not a sexually transmitted disease, but it affects men who have sex with men, with rare exceptions, outside of endemic areas.

While health officials have reported that the infection rate has decreased, the number of cases is rising rapidly.

The “public health emergency of international concern (USPPI)” qualification is used in “severe, sudden, unusual or unexpected” situations. It is defined by the WHO as an “extraordinary event” whose spread “poses a risk to public health in other states” and may require “coordinated international action”.

This is the 7th time WHO has used this level of warning.

During the first meeting on June 23, most of the experts of the emergency committee recommended to Dr. Tedros not to pronounce the USPPI’s emergency.

Risk of stigmatization

Detected in early May, an unusual surge of cases of monkey flu has seen the virus spread outside of central and west African countries and then around the world, with Europe at its epicenter.

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First identified in humans in the 1970s, monkeypox is less lethal and more contagious than its cousin, human smallpox, which was eradicated in the 1980s.

In most cases, patients are men who have sex with men, are relatively young and live mainly in cities, according to the WHO.

A study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine is the largest on the subject and, based on data from 16 different countries, confirms that in most – 95% – recent cases, the disease is transmitted through sexual contact and 98%. Among the victims were gay or bisexual men.

“This mode of transmission represents both an opportunity and a challenge to implement targeted public health interventions, because in some countries, affected communities face life-threatening discrimination,” Dr Tedros said before the panel of experts.

“There is a real concern that men who have sex with men may be stigmatized or blamed for the increase in cases, making it more difficult to detect and stop,” he warned.

Vaccination

On Friday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the use of the human smallpox vaccine to expand its use against monkeypox. This vaccine is actually already used for this purpose in several countries, including France.

Danish company Bavarian Nordic’s Imvanex vaccine has been approved in the EU since 2013 to prevent smallpox.

WHO recommends vaccination for those at high risk as well as health workers who may encounter the disease.

In New York, thousands of people have already been vaccinated with the Zinios vaccine.

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