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Corinne Gretler

Monkeypox Isn’t International Public Health Emergency, WHO Finds

MADRID, SPAIN - JUNE 06: A medical laboratory technician shows a suspected monkeypox sample at the microbiology laboratory of La Paz Hospital on June 06, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. Europe is at the centre of the monkeypox virus outbreak, the World Health Organisation reported 780 confirmed cases with Britain, Spain and Portugal reporting the largest numbers of patients. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images) (Photographer: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images Europe)

The World Health Organization opted against calling the recent monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

The outbreak is “clearly an evolving threat,” the WHO said in a statement Saturday, though it doesn’t constitute an international public health emergency “at this moment.” An emergency committee convened on Thursday to discuss the outbreak. 

“What makes the current outbreak especially concerning is the rapid, continuing spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission into vulnerable populations including people that are immunocompromised, pregnant women and children,” according to the statement. “It requires our collective attention and coordinated action now to stop the further spread of monkeypox virus.”

The emergency status known as PHEIC -- pronounced “fake” -- applies to an extraordinary event that carries a public-health risk via the international spread of a disease, and one that potentially requires a coordinated response.

The last PHEIC was the coronavirus outbreak, which was labeled as such at the end of January 2020. It’s the WHO’s highest alert level and can be used to encourage nations to cooperate on countermeasures, while letting the agency recommend steps such as travel advisories.

The cousin of the smallpox virus has mostly been confined to developing countries for years, but has spread across Europe and the US in recent months. The pathogen typically causes flu-like symptoms, followed by a rash that often starts on the face and spreads down the belly. The illness often lasts for two weeks to a month and can be deadly. 

Numerous cases occurred in people between the ages of 31 to 40, and the majority of them were in male patients, according to the WHO. 

A large proportion of cases have been among men who have sex with men, and many have occurred within sexual networks, though anyone can contract the disease. The UK government recently expanded the provision of the smallpox vaccine Imvanex, which is shown to be effective against monkeypox, to some at-risk gay and bisexual men to help control the spread.

More than 2,700 cases throughout the European region have already been recorded but no deaths have been reported so far.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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