Europe health official warns monkeypox cases could ‘accelerate’

Saturday, May 21, 2022

LONDON: A top European health official warned on Friday that cases of the rare monkeypox virus could accelerate in the coming months, as the virus has spread to at least eight European countries.

WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said that "as we enter the summer season... with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission could accelerate".

The virus, which causes distinctive pustules but is rarely fatal, has previously been seen in central and west Africa. But over recent weeks cases have been detected in European countries including Portugal and Sweden as well as the United States, Canada and Australia, Kluge said, calling the spread "atypical".

"All but one of the recent cases have no relevant travel history to areas where monkeypox is endemic," he added. The health official warned that transmission could be boosted by the fact that "the cases currently being detected are among those engaging in sexual activity", and many do not recognise the symptoms.

Most initial cases have been among men who have sex with men and sought treatment at sexual health clinics, Kluge said, adding "this suggests that transmission may have been ongoing for some time".

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it is investigating the fact that many cases reported were people identifying as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men. The official’s statement came as France, Belgium and Germany reported their first cases of monkeypox and Italy confirmed it now had three linked cases of the disease.

French authorities said the virus had infected 29-year-old man living in the area that includes Paris, while Belgium said that it had confirmed two cases, including a man in the Flemish Brabant region.

UK health officials on Friday reported 11 more confirmed cases in England, taking its total to 20. The UK Health Security Agency’s chief medical adviser, Susan Hopkins, said she expected "this increase to continue in the coming days and for more cases to be identified in the wider community".