'Highly unusual': WHO on monkeypox spread outside Africa without travel links

May 22, 2022 09:10 AM IST

Monkeypox: The WHO has said the cases are expected to grow as 12 nations record patients infected with the rare virus. 

With the monkeypox cases having surged past the 90-mark in a span of ten days in 12 nations, the WHO has stressed that it was highly unusual to find patients “with no travel links to an endemic area”. The world health body - stressing that it has expanded its surveillance in non-endemic areas - further pointed out that cases are also being reported from sexual health clinics amongst “men who have sex with men”. The number of patients are expected to increase in the coming days, the UN health agency has said.

The outbreak of the monkeypox virus has travel authorities on alert (Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto/picture alliance)
The outbreak of the monkeypox virus has travel authorities on alert (Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto/picture alliance)

Monkeypox - which was first detected in 1958 when outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research - was largely confined to African nations for many decades. The first case in the United States was reported in 2003.

But since May 13, the virus has been spreading fast across nations. Twelve countries - including nine European nations - have logged 92 cases and 28 cases are suspected. Outside Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and Israel have registered monkeypox patients.

Poland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Italy are the European countries where cases have been registered so far. All these countries are “non-endemic areas”. 

“The identification of confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox with no direct travel links to an endemic area represents a highly unusual event. Surveillance to date in non-endemic areas has been limited, but is now expanding. WHO expects that more cases in non-endemic areas will be reported,”

“Epidemiological investigations are ongoing, however, reported cases thus far have no established travel links to endemic areas. Based on currently available information, cases have mainly but not exclusively been identified amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) seeking care in primary care and sexual health clinics.”

The virus - which does not spread easily between people, according to experts - enters the body through respiratory tract, broken skin, or mucous membrane.

According to the top medical body in the US, the CDC, the first human case of monkeypox was “recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Since then monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries.”

Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana (identified in animals only), Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone are the nations identified by the WHO as the endemic countries.

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