World Health Organisation declares monkeypox a global health emergency - but experts insist the virus will not spark the next big pandemic

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries an ‘emergency of international concern’.

By Tom Cotterill
Saturday, 23rd July 2022, 4:58 pm

More than 16,500 cases of monkeypox have been reported globally, with 11 new cases of monkeypox having been confirmed in the UK, health secretary Sajid Javid said.

However, despite the warning by WHO, experts have insisted that the global outbreak will not become the next big pandemic, with only 20 cases reported in the UK so far, the Press Association claimed.

Professor David Heymann, an expert on infectious disease epidemiology at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said it will not spread in the same manner as coronavirus.

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Monkeypox has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisaiont. Picture: PA

He said: ‘This will not be a pandemic as we know pandemics, but it certainly is possible that this disease has spread in many different parts of the world already and we are just beginning to identify it.

‘It is not transmitted by air, we don’t believe, so it’s not a respiratory infection like SARS-Coronavirus-2 (Covid-19), so it will not spread in the same manner.’

Prof Heymann, the WHO’s former assistant director-general for health security and environment, added: ‘It is transmitted from people who have monkeypox to people who don’t have monkeypox by close physical contact with the sore or with the open sore that is causing the disease.

‘If there is close contact, physical contact, there is a chance the virus could spread from the lesion on one person to another person and could enter through a break in the skin or through a mucous membrane.

‘This virus doesn’t transmit easily. It is a quite rare disease which has now become more common.’

The disease, which was first found in monkeys, can be transmitted from person to person through close physical contact and is caused by the monkeypox virus.

Prof Heymann added: ‘There are two types of the virus. There is a virus in central Africa which is very lethal, it has 10% fatality and it causes a disease that looks like smallpox.

‘Fortunately, that disease has not spread outside of Africa yet, and hopefully it won’t, because people are very sick and they don’t travel.

‘The disease that is occurring in Europe and North America is a west African virus-type-strain which is very moderate, it causes skin rash, maybe one or two lesions on the skin, and it can cause a fever and swollen lymph nodes, swollen glands and muscle aches, but it is not fatal in most cases.

‘It can be fatal in very less than one per cent of people, so it is not a fatal disease.’

On how people can minimise their chances of catching it, he added: ‘They need to be protecting themselves from close physical contact and whatever they perceive as physical contact they should modify.

‘They should beware that this is spreading and they should be very careful when they have physical contact of any type.

‘A handshake would only be dangerous if there is a pox virus lesion on the hand of one of the people who shakes, so they have to do their own risk assessment.’

It comes after WHO regional director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge said monkeypox cases in multiple European countries, the US, Canada and Australia are 'atypical’ for ‘several reasons’.

Firstly, the rare viral disease is spreading among people with no relevant travel history to areas where monkeypox is endemic, such as in west or central Africa, Dr Kluge said on Friday.

He added most initial cases are being detected through sexual health services and are ‘among men who have had sex with men’, and said ‘geographically dispersed’ outbreaks suggest “transmission may have been ongoing for some time”.

Professor Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, an expert in epidemiology of emerging infectious disease, said it is ‘extremely unlikely’ monkeypox will become a pandemic.

He added: ‘The important thing is there is a vaccine that works and it is the same vaccine that we used for smallpox but these days, I believe, the best guess I have heard is that it is 85 per cent effective against monkeypox, even if you give it two or three days after somebody has been exposed.

‘Ultimately, this is not particularly infectious unless you have close contact with somebody.

‘This isn’t a Covid situation at all and if we get the vaccination right, we should be able to bring it under control fairly quickly.’