LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) will convene an emergency committee on Thursday next week to assess whether the monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.
That is the highest level of warning issued by the United Nations agency, which currently applies only to the Covid-19 pandemic and polio.
There have been 1,600 confirmed and 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox this year and 72 deaths, WHO said, in 39 countries, including those where the virus usually spreads.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was time to consider stepping up the response because the virus is behaving unusually, more countries are affected, and there is a need for international coordination.
“The outbreak of monkeypox is unusual and concerning. For that reason, I have decided to convene the Emergency Committee under the international health regulations next week, to assess whether this outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern,” Dr Tedros told journalists.
WHO’s emergencies director for Africa Ibrahima Soce Fall said: “We don’t want to wait until the situation is out of control.”
People typically catch monkeypox by coming into close contact with infected animals. The virus can also spread through the touching or sharing of infected items like clothing and bedding, or via respiratory droplets produced by sneezing or coughing, according to WHO.
On average, symptoms appear within six to 13 days of exposure but can take up to three weeks. People who get sick commonly experience a fever, headache, back and muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and general exhaustion.
Although it was first discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958, which gives the virus its name, scientists think rodents are the main carriers of monkeypox in the wild.
It is primarily found in Central and West Africa, particularly in areas close to tropical rainforests - and rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats and dormice have all been identified as potential carriers.