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ABC News

Monkeypox is not currently a global health emergency, WHO says

A WHO committee said the escalating monkeypox outbreak should be closely monitored. (Reuters: Cynthia S Goldsmith, Russell Regnery/CDC/Handout)

The monkeypox outbreak does not currently constitute a global public health concern, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, although this may change in the future.

However, the WHO pointed to the "emergency nature of the outbreak" and said "intense response efforts" were needed to control further spread.

The announcement was made after WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened an emergency committee on the disease.

Mr Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "deeply concerned" about the evolving threat of monkeypox, which has been identified in more than 50 countries.

The committee said the outbreak should be “closely monitored and reviewed after a few weeks".

But it would recommend a re-assessment before then if new developments emerged.

So far, there have been more than 3,200 confirmed cases globally since May, including at least eight confirmed cases in Australia. 

Official figures as of June 15 show Australia's confirmed cases include three in Victoria and five in New South Wales.

The WHO director-general said the committee had pointed out monkeypox has been circulating in a number of African countries for decades and has been neglected in terms of research, attention and funding.

"This must change not just for monkeypox but for other neglected diseases in low-income countries as the world is reminded yet again that health is an interconnected proposition."

Mr Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said that what makes the current outbreak especially concerning is the "rapid, continuing spread" into new countries and the risk of further transmission into vulnerable populations including people that are immunocompromised, pregnant women and children.

The WHO said there were many unknowns and gaps in current data about the outbreak.

Scientists warn that anyone in close, physical contact with someone infected with monkeypox or their clothing or bedsheets is at risk of catching the disease.

The clinical presentation of monkeypox resembles that of smallpox, although it is less contagious than smallpox and causes less severe illness.

People with monkeypox often experience symptoms like fever, body aches and a rash. Most recover within weeks without needing medical care.

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