Pavlo Gonchar | Light flare | Getty Images
An outbreak of the monkeypox virus in North America and Europe is spreading primarily through sex among men with around 200 confirmed and suspected cases in at least a dozen countries, World Health Organization officials said Monday.
The outbreak has grown rapidly in Europe and North America over the past week and is expected to be much more widespread as more doctors look for signs and symptoms. Two confirmed and one suspected case of monkeypox in the UK were reported to the WHO just 10 days ago, the first cases this year outside Africa where the virus has generally circulated at low levels in past 40 years, the organization said.
“We have seen a few cases in Europe over the past five years, only in travellers, but this is the first time that we have seen cases in many countries at the same time in people who have not traveled to the endemic regions of Africa,” said Dr Rosamund Lewis, who leads WHO smallpox research, in a question-and-answer session broadcast live on the organization’s social media channels.
European nations have confirmed dozens of cases in what has become the continent’s largest ever outbreak of monkeypox, according to the German military. The United States has confirmed at least two cases and Canada has confirmed at least five so far. Belgium has just introduced a mandatory 21-day quarantine for monkeypox patients.
The WHO convened an emergency meeting via videoconference this weekend to review the virus, identify those most at risk and study its transmission. The organization will host a second global meeting on monkeypox next week to further explore the risks and treatments available to combat the virus.
Although the virus itself is not a sexually transmitted infection, which is usually transmitted through semen and vaginal secretions, the most recent outbreak of cases appears to have spread among men who have sex with others. men, WHO officials said, noting that anyone can get monkeypox.
“Many diseases can be spread through sexual contact. You can catch a cough or a cold through sexual contact, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sexually transmitted disease,” said Andy Seale, who advises the on HIV, hepatitis and other diseases. sexually transmitted infections.
The virus is transmitted through close contact with people, animals or material infected with the virus. It enters the body through damaged skin, respiratory tract, eyes, nose and mouth. Although human-to-human transmission is also thought to occur through respiratory droplets, this method requires prolonged face-to-face contact because droplets cannot travel more than a few feet, according to the CDC.
“It’s a virus that’s super stable outside of the human host, so it can live on objects like blankets and things like that,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC in a separate interview Monday on ” Squawk Box”. “And so you can see situations where people become reluctant to try on clothes, things like that, where it could become disruptive in areas where it’s spreading, like New York.”
He said he expects more confirmed cases in the United States in the coming weeks as doctors and public health officials reassess patients who have had symptoms and the virus continues to spread.
Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus in the same family as smallpox but not as serious, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, monkeypox can kill up to 1 in 10 people who contract the disease, based on observations in Africa, according to the CDC.
The vaccine used to prevent smallpox appears to be around 85% effective in protecting against monkeypox in observational research in Africa, WHO officials said. But vaccines aren’t widely available, so it’s important to reserve them for populations most at risk, said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s lead epidemiologist on zoonotic diseases. She said the WHO would team up with vaccine makers to see if they could ramp up production.
Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, back pain, muscle aches and low energy, WHO officials said. This then progresses to a rash on the face, hands, feet, eyes, mouth, or genitals that turns into raised bumps, or papules, which then become blisters that often look like chickenpox. These can then fill with a white liquid, becoming a pustule, which breaks and forms scabs.
Gottlieb described it as a debilitating disease that can last two to four months and has a long incubation period of 21 days.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an uncontrolled spread in the same way that we tolerated the Covid-19 outbreak,” Gottlieb said. “But there’s a possibility now that it’s entered the community if in fact it’s more widespread than what we’re measuring right now, it’s getting hard to quell.”
—CNBC Spencer Kimball and Karen Gilchrist contributed to this article.
Disclosure: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and serves on the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health tech company Aetion, and biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chairman of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean’s Healthy Sail Panel.