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Monkeypox virus outbreaks in North America and Europe are spreading primarily through sex among men with nearly 200 confirmed and suspected cases in at least a dozen countries, World Health Organization officials said on Monday.
The outbreak has accelerated across Europe and North America during the past week and is expected to become more widespread as more doctors look for signs and symptoms. The organization said two confirmed and one suspected cases of monkeypox in the UK were reported to the WHO just 10 days ago, with this year the first case outside Africa where the virus has generally been transmitted at low levels in the past 40 years.
“We have seen some cases in Europe over the past five years in just travelers, but this is the first time we are seeing people in several countries at the same time who have not traveled to endemic areas in Africa. Dr. Rosamund Lewis, who runs WHO’s smallpox research, said in a Q&A livestreamed on the organization’s social media channels.
European countries have confirmed dozens of cases, according to the German military, in what has become the largest monkeypox outbreak ever on the continent. The US and Canada each have at least five confirmed or estimated cases so far. Belgium recently introduced a mandatory 21-day quarantine for patients with monkeypox.
The WHO called an emergency meeting via video conference later this week to look at the virus, identify those most at risk and study its transmission. The organization will hold a second global meeting on monkeypox next week to conduct a more in-depth study of the risks and treatments available to fight the virus.
While the virus itself is not a sexually transmitted infection, which is typically spread through semen and vaginal fluids, the most recent rise in cases has been among men who have sex with other men, WHO officials said. that anyone can contract monkeypox.
“Several diseases can be spread through sexual contact. You can get a cough or a cold through sexual contact, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sexually transmitted disease,” said Andy Seele, who advises the WHO on HIV, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted infections.
virus is spread through close contact With people, animals or material infected with the virus. It enters the body through broken skin, respiratory tract, eyes, nose and mouth. Although it is believed that human-to-human transmission also occurs via respiratory droplets, that method requires prolonged face-to-face contact as the 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 blankets and things like that,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC in a separate interview on “Squawk Box” on Monday. “And so you can see situations where people become reluctant to try on clothing, things where it can be disruptive in areas where it’s spreading, like New York City.”
He said more confirmed cases are expected in the US in the coming weeks as doctors and public health officials re-evaluate patients who have presented symptoms and the virus continues to spread.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus in the same family, but it is not as serious. However, based on observations in Africa, monkeypox can kill 1 in 10 people who contract the disease, According to the CDC.
WHO officials said the vaccine used to prevent smallpox appears to be about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox in observational research in Africa. But vaccines are not widely available, so it is important to reserve them for populations that are most at risk, said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s lead epidemiologist on zoonotic diseases. She said the WHO would work with vaccine manufacturers to see if they could ramp up production.
WHO officials said early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, back pain, muscle aches and low energy. It then turns into a rash on the face, arms, legs, eyes, mouth or genitals that turns into raised bumps or papules, which then become blisters that often resemble chicken pox. They can then fill with a white fluid, forming a pimple, which ruptures and crusts over.
Gottlieb described it as a disabling 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 spread uncontrollably in the same way that we’ve endured the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gottlieb said. “But there is a possibility that it has now entered the community if in fact it is more widespread than what we are measuring right now, which becomes difficult to smell.”
— CNBC spencer kimball And Karen Gilchrist contributed to this article.
Disclosure: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and a member of the board of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus, health-care tech company Etion and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean’s “Healthy Sail Panel”.