Europe’s top health official has warned that cases of the rare monkeypox virus could rise rapidly in the coming months, as the virus spreads across Europe.
“As we enter the summer…with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission could accelerate,” said Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
This virus, which causes distinctive but rarely fatal pustules, has been previously seen in Central and West Africa.
But in recent weeks, cases have been detected in European countries including Portugal and Sweden as well as the United States, Canada and Australia, Kluge said, calling the spread “atypical.” .
He added: “All but one of the recent cases had no travel history associated with monkeypox endemic areas.
Health officials warn that transmission could be fueled by the fact that “currently detected cases are among people engaging in sexual activity”, and many do not realize the symptom.
Most of the initial cases of the disease are in men who have sex with men and seek treatment in sexual health clinics, Kluge said, adding “this suggests that transmission may be possible.” went on for a while.”
The WHO said it was investigating the fact that many of the reported cases were of people who were identified as gay, bisexual or men who had sex with men.
The official’s statement came as France, Belgium and Germany reported their first cases of monkeypox and Italy confirmed that the country now has three cases linked to the disease.
Belgium’s three confirmed cases of smallpox in monkeys on Friday were linked to a large-scale fetish festival in the port city of Antwerp, organizers of the Darklands Festival said.
French authorities say the virus has infected a 29-year-old man who lives in an area that includes Paris.
In Spain, the Health Ministry reported seven confirmed cases and said it was waiting for the confirmation of 23 more.
But a regional health official said authorities had recorded 21 confirmed cases in the Madrid area, most of which were linked to a gay sauna in the center of the capital.
It looks like these numbers have yet to be included in the nationwide tally.
Portugal has recorded 23 confirmed cases.
British health officials on Friday reported 11 more confirmed cases in the UK, bringing the total to 20.
The UK’s chief medical adviser, Susan Hopkins, said she expected “this increase to continue in the coming days and more cases to be identified in the wider community”. “.
She specifically urged gay and bisexual men to pay attention to symptoms, saying “a remarkable proportion” of cases in the UK and Europe come from this group.
UKHSA says monkeypox was not previously considered a sexually transmitted infection.
It can be transmitted through contact with contaminated people’s skin lesions and droplets, as well as shared items such as bed linens and towels.
The UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, sought to reassure the public, writing on Twitter: “Most cases are mild and I can confirm we have purchased an extra dose of an effective vaccine. against smallpox in monkeys.”
Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.
The first UK case was announced on 7 May, in a patient who recently traveled to Nigeria.
Two more cases were reported a week later, in people in the same household. They have no link to the first case.
UKHSA said four more cases announced on May 16 were all identified as gay, bisexual or other men who had sex with men and appeared to have been infected in London.
It said the two new cases reported on May 18 also had no history of travel to countries where the virus is endemic and “it is possible they were infected through community transmission”.
It did not give any details about the latest cases reported on Friday.
On Thursday, health authorities in Italy announced the country’s first case of monkeypox, in a young man who had just returned from the Canary Islands.
On Friday, it said two other cases, involving “patient zeros”, had been confirmed.
According to WHO, smallpox in monkeys usually clears up in 2-4 weeks.