LONDON — Since May, nearly 90 countries have reported more than 31,000 cases of monkeypox.
Outside of Africa, 98% of cases are in men who have sex with men. The limited global supplies of vaccines , have made it a race to end monkeypox before the disease becomes endemic.
CAN MONKEYPOX BEEN CONTAINED
Theoretically, yes. There is an effective vaccine and the virus doesn’t spread quickly. But there are only about 16 million doses available now and only one company makes the shot. Except for Africa, there are no signs of monkeypox spreading beyond those who have had sex. This means that the spread could be stopped among this group. British scientists reported last week that there was “early sign of the outbreak in Britain, which had once experienced the world’s largest epidemic other than Africa.
IS THIS ANOTHER PANDEMIC?
No. A pandemic means that a disease outbreak has spread to the entire world. Monkeypox does not transmit as quickly as the coronavirus and stopping it will not require dramatic interventions like the COVID-19 lockdowns.
WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he declared monkeypox an emergency in part to prompt countries to take the epidemic seriously, saying there is still an opportunity to contain the disease before it becomes a global problem.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD?
Monkeypox spread typically requires skin-to-skin or skin-to-mouth contact with an infected patient’s lesions. People can also be infected through contact with the clothing or bedsheets of someone who has monkeypox lesions.
It also can be spread through contact with respiratory droplets, but scientists are still trying to figure out how often that happens. British officials claim they have not confirmed airborne transmission.
WHO IS GETTING INFECTED?
A large percentage of cases have been in gay and bisexual men. The initial outbreaks in Europe and North America were likely triggered by sex at two raves in Spain and Belgium.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99% of monkeypox cases in the U.S. are men. Of those, 94% reported sexual contact with other men in the three weeks before they developed symptoms. Anyone can get the virus from close contact with infected persons or fabric that has touched infected people.
WHO IS GETTING VACCINATED?
Because of limited supplies, officials in health aren’t recommending mass vaccination. The shots are recommended for healthcare workers and people in close proximity to infected persons, as well as men who may be at highest risk for monkeypox.
Officials are also trying to stretch supplies of the vaccine, Jynneos. It requires two doses, but many places are only giving one dose.
U.S. health officials on Tuesday authorized a new strategy that would allow health professionals to vaccinate up to five people — instead of one — with each vial. The approach uses just a fraction of the typical amount of vaccine and administers it with an injection just under the skin rather than into deeper tissue. Two shots would be given to each recipient every month.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO TO LOWER MY RISK?
WHO’s Tedros recommended that men at risk of catching monkeypox consider making “safe choices” and reducing their sexual partners “for the moment.”
Britain’s Health Security Agency has advised people to check themselves for monkeypox lesions before they have sex or go to a social event, noting that most of the country’s cases are believed to have originated at festivals, saunas and other venues where sex has taken place. Anyone with monkeypox lesions should isolate until they are completely healed, which can take up to three weeks.
WHAT’S THE CONNECTION TO AFRICA?
Monkeypox has been endemic for decades in parts of central and west Africa, where people have mostly been sickened after contact with infected wild animals like rodents and squirrels. The acting director of Africa’s top public health agency said last week that sex among gay and bisexual men was “not relevant” to the continent’s outbreak, with about 40% of cases among women.
Scientists think the monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America originated in Africa long before the disease started spreading. Samples from cases in Europe show dozens of mutations, suggesting the initial virus was silently spreading for months or years before the current epidemics were detected.
The version of monkeypox spreading in Europe and North America has a lower fatality rate than the one circulating in Africa. Countries that didn’t see many monkeypox cases before this outbreak have reported a handful of deaths, while Africa has had at least 100 suspected deaths this year. WHO IS AT A HIGHER RISK OF SERIOUS ILLNESS
Most people who are infected by monkeypox will recover quickly. However, it is possible to develop more serious symptoms such as brain inflammation or death.
Monkeypox can be serious in children, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions, like cancer, tuberculosis or HIV. In the U.S., the CDC says about 40% of people with monkeypox also have HIV. The longer these outbreaks go on, the higher the chance that the virus will spread to other areas. This is similar to the way HIV was discovered in gay men and then established in more places.
“There’s some overlap between the networks of homosexual and bisexual men as well as networks of heterosexual individuals with high sexual activity. It is possible that we will see monkeypox in more places,” Dr. Paul Hunter from Britain’s University of East Anglia said. “If that happens, we may have a much bigger problem.”
AP writers Mike Stobbe in New York and Matthew Perrone in Washington contributed to this report.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.
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