According to an infectious disease epidemiologist, there are serious concerns that the United States and other countries are not doing enough to prevent monkeypox from becoming a full-scale global epidemic.
Over the weekend, the World Health Organization activated its highest alert level for the virus, calling monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.
The rare designation means the WHO now considers the outbreak to be a significant enough threat to global health that a coordinated international response is needed to prevent the virus from potentially becoming a pandemic.
“This is a single outbreak where we know of this virus, but it’s causing a very large outbreak in a number of countries around the world. In fact, if we look at the number of cases, the United States is sort of lags behind Spain in number of cases,” Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of the special pathogens program at New York City Health+ hospitals, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.
“This is not an epidemic to be taken lightly. What is really very concerning is that it becomes an established virus in the United States, as well as in other countries where this virus is not endemic,” she added.
Madad said “it is truly unacceptable”, especially in the wake of the Covid pandemic, for countries to struggle to contain the spread of monkeypox.
“Having all the lessons learned with Covid-19, we should not face an outbreak of this magnitude and are not doing enough to ensure it does not become endemic,” she added.
Although the WHO statement does not place demands on national governments, it is an urgent call to action.
Increase in virus cases
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said monkeypox can be spread through respiratory droplets after prolonged face-to-face interaction or intimate physical contact. The virus can also be spread through contact with bodily fluids, broken skin, and contaminated objects like linens and clothing.
More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 70 countries so far this year, and the number of confirmed infections increased by 77% from late June to early July, according to WHO data.
Madad said while men who have sex with men are currently most at risk of infection, the virus is beginning to spread to a wider community.
“For example, in the United States, two children contracted monkeypox through household transmission from someone with monkeypox. We know that these cases may start to increase over a period of time as more transmissions are happening in the community,” she said.
On Monday, the WHO warned against complacency in containing the outbreak, saying there is no guarantee the virus will continue to spread within specific communities.
While cases have so far been concentrated primarily within gay and bisexual communities, the UN health agency said there was little evidence to suggest the disease would remain confined to these groups.
On the contrary, their early detection could be the harbinger of a wider epidemic.
The challenges of the American vaccine
Madad said the best way to cut the chains of transmission is to vaccinate those at risk and who may have been exposed to monkeypox. She noted, however, that access to vaccines is an issue, especially in the United States.
On Friday, a senior White House official said President Joe Biden was considering declaring a public health emergency in response to the growing outbreak of monkeypox. Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid response coordinator, said the administration is considering how a declaration of a public health emergency could bolster the US response to the outbreak.
The United States has so far reported more than 2,500 cases of monkeypox in 44 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, according to the CDC.
“Vaccines continue to be distributed in territories, cities and states. By the end of this year, we are going to have approximately 1.6 million by the end of 2023 or mid-2023 – we are going to have millions of doses,” Madad said.
“But the problem here is that it’s just not happening enough,” she added, as demand currently outstrips supply. “We really need to get ahead of this outbreak.”
— CNBC’s Spencer Kimball contributed to the report.
#Countries #monkeypox #outbreak #epidemiologist