A top European health official warned on Friday that the incidence of the rare monkeypox virus could accelerate in the coming months, as the virus has spread to at least eight European countries.
Hans Cluj, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said: “As we enter the summer season … with crowds, festivities and parties, I am concerned that the transition may accelerate.”
The virus, which causes distinctive pustules but is rarely fatal, has previously been seen in Central and West Africa.
But in recent weeks cases have been identified in European countries, including Portugal and Sweden, as well as the United States, Canada and Australia, Cluj called the spread “atypical.”
“Except for one of the recent incidents, not everyone has a relevant history of traveling to areas where monkeypox is endemic,” he added.
The health official warned that “currently identified cases are among those involved in sexual activity” and the fact that many do not recognize the symptoms could increase the risk of infection.
In most early cases, among men who have had sex with men and sought treatment at a sexual health clinic, Cluj said, “this suggests that the infection may continue for some time.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is investigating the fact that the reported cases have been identified as homosexual, bisexual or having sex with men.
The official statement came as France, Belgium and Germany reported their first cases of monkeypox, and Italy confirmed that it now has three linked cases of the disease.
French authorities say the virus infected a 29-year-old man living in the Paris suburb, while Belgium says it has confirmed two cases, including one in the Flemish Brabant region.
UK health officials on Friday reported 11 more confirmed cases in England, bringing the total to 20.
‘It will increase in the coming days’
Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency, said she hoped the increase would continue in the coming days and that more cases would be identified within the wider community.
He called for a focus on the symptoms of gay and bisexual men in particular, saying a “significant proportion” of cases in the UK and Europe came from this group.
Monkeypox has not been previously described as a sexually transmitted infection, the UKHSA said.
It can be transmitted through contact with a infected person’s skin wounds and blisters, as well as shared items such as bedding and towels.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid tried to reassure the public, tweeting: “Mostly mild and I can confirm that we have collected more doses of effective vaccine against monkeypox.”
Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue, and chickenpox-like rashes on the hands and face.
The first UK case was announced on 7 May, a patient who had recently traveled to Nigeria.
One week later, two more cases were reported from the same family. They had no connection with the first case.
The UKHSA said four more cases announced May 16 had been identified as all homosexual, bisexual or other men who had sex with men and appeared to be infected in London.
It said the two new cases reported on May 18 also had no history of traveling to countries where the virus was endemic and “probably acquired the virus through community transmission”.
It did not provide any details on the latest case reported on Friday.
On Thursday, Italian health authorities announced the case of the country’s first monkeypox, among a young man who had recently returned from the Canary Islands.
On Friday, they said two more cases involving “patient zero” had been confirmed.
According to the WHO, monkeypox usually clears up after two to four weeks.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)