WHO to convene panel to determine if monkeypox international emergency

FILE – This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. WHO’s top monkeypox expert Dr. Rosamund Lewis said she doesn’t expect the hundreds of cases reported to date to turn into another pandemic, but acknowledged there are still many unknowns about the disease, including how exactly it’s spreading and whether the suspension of mass smallpox immunization decades ago may somehow be speeding its transmission. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency committee will meet next week to determine whether monkeypox is a “public health emergency of international concern,” it announced Tuesday, signaling an increasing level of concern about the outbreak.   

“I think it’s now clear that there is an unusual situation, meaning even the virus is behaving unusually from how it used to behave,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “It’s also affecting more and more countries and we believe it needs also some coordinated response because of the geographic spread.” 

Elevating monkeypox to a public health emergency of international concern would give it the designation that COVID-19 received in early 2020.  

However, there are important differences between the outbreaks, including that monkeypox does not spread as easily as COVID-19. Monkeypox primarily spreads through direct contact with infectious sores, or through clothing or bedsheets. It can also spread through prolonged face-to-face contact.  

There have also been no deaths reported among the newly-affected countries in the latest outbreak, though Tedros said the WHO is seeking to verify reports from Brazil of a potential death there.  

The United States has also ordered additional doses of a vaccine to fight monkeypox.   

“Monkeypox is rare and does not spread easily between people without close contact,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The threat of monkeypox to the general U.S. population remains LOW.” 

Tedros said that the WHO would also be exploring a new name for the virus.  

There are currently 65 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC, and it has been detected in 32 new countries in the new outbreak.  

The virus includes flu-like symptoms as well as its characeristic lesions, and generally lasts two to four weeks.   

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