The hundreds of cases of monkeypox that have been diagnosed in the past month across Europe, North and South America, Israel, the UAE and Australia may be just “the tip of the iceberg,” WHO Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention chief Sylvie Briand warned on Friday during a press briefing.
Briand suggested there could be “many more cases that are undetected in communities,” as monkeypox does not immediately present with definitive symptoms. Infected individuals initially complain of flu-like ailments such as a fever, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes before the telltale chickenpox-like rash appears on the face and body. While there is no known cure for the virus, it usually recedes within two to four weeks.
Despite stating that “we know that we will have more cases in the coming days,” Briand discouraged people from panicking, insisting “this is not a disease the general public should be worried about. It is not Covid or other diseases that spread fast.” While the WHO is still seeking to determine the exact origin of the recent monkeypox outbreak, there is no indication that the virus responsible for it has mutated or otherwise become more dangerous.
The agency convened an emergency meeting last week to discuss the outbreak, which began earlier this month, likely in the UK among individuals who had traveled to Nigeria. The disease is endemic in western and central Africa, though its presence outside the continent is considered rare.
WHO official Maria van Kerkhove has confirmed that the majority of the cases detected outside of Africa have been found in men who have sexual contact with men, and early reports of the outbreaks in Belgium and Spain had links to large gay fetish festivals in those countries. Gay dating app Grindr released a message to its European and UK users earlier this week alerting them to the outbreak and encouraging them to seek treatment if they experienced symptoms.
Over 200 cases have been diagnosed in 20 countries around the world, according to the WHO, with the majority of those found in the UK. Belgium last week became the only country to declare a mandatory 21-day quarantine for infected individuals. The WHO’s European head, Hans Kluge, expressed concern that the disease could spread rapidly over the summer festival season, given the sexually transmitted nature of most of the confirmed cases.