A senior adviser for the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the monkeypox outbreak seems to be spreading through sexual contact and warned that case numbers could spike over the summer months as people attend major summer gatherings and festivals.
As of Saturday, the WHO reported 92 confirmed and 28 more suspected cases in the outbreak in countries not normally affected by the disease. Cases have been identified in Italy, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Australia, the US, and Canada, as well as the UK – where the first European case was reported.
David Heymann, chair of the WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential, led a meeting of the group on Friday “because of the urgency of the situation,” reports The Guardian.
“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread, as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” David Heymann told Reuters.
Another infectious disease expert, professor Jimmy Whitworth with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said there is an urgent need to find out if the outbreak is spreading differently through sexual contact.
“You could imagine that a female person living in the same house, sharing utensils and so on with somebody who’s incubating it could get it, but we haven’t seen that so far,” Newsweek quoted Whitworth as saying.
“That’s what makes us a bit suspicious that maybe this is transmitting sexually, and we need to find that out. Because if so, that’s new—that’s not been seen before.”
The BBC is reporting that in London, where most of the UK’s 20 identified cases have been detected, sexual health clinics have stopped people walking in altogether. Staff at the clinics are having to isolate if they have come into contact with anyone infected.
Monkeypox can be spread when someone is in close contact with an infected person. The most recent UK cases are in gay or bisexual men which has prompted the UK Health Security Agency to encourage men who have sex with men to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions.
The WHO outlined its latest plan in the weekend statement.
“Current available evidence suggests that those who are most at risk are those who have had close physical contact with someone with monkeypox, while they are symptomatic. WHO is also working to provide guidance to protect frontline health care providers and other health workers who may be at risk such as cleaners. WHO will be providing more technical recommendations in the coming days. “