According to an infectious disease epidemiologist, there are serious concerns that the US and other countries are not doing enough to prevent monkeypox from becoming a large-scale global outbreak.
On the weekend, World Health Organization activated its highest alert level for the virus, calling monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.
The rare designation means that the outbreak is now considered by the WHO to be a serious enough threat to global health that a coordinated international response is needed to prevent the virus from potentially becoming a pandemic.
“This is a unique outbreak when we know this virus, but it is 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 kind of lags behind Spain in terms of numbers. cases,” Dr. Sira Madad, senior director of the Special Pathogens Program at New York City Health + Hospitals, said Monday in an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia.
“This is not an outbreak that should not be taken lightly. What is really of great concern is that it is becoming an established virus in the United States as well as in other countries for which this virus is not endemic,” she added.
Madad said “this is really unacceptable”, especially after the Covid pandemic, for countries trying to contain the spread of monkeypox.
“Given all the lessons learned from Covid-19, we should not be dealing with an outbreak of this magnitude and are not doing enough to prevent it from becoming endemic,” she added.
Although the WHO declaration does not place demands on national governments, it serves as an urgent call to action.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that monkeypox can be spread through the air after prolonged face-to-face contact or intimate physical contact. The virus can also be spread by contact with body fluids, skin breaks, and contaminated items such as sheets and clothing.
More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox more than 70 countries have been reported this year, and the number of confirmed infections rose by 77% from late June to early July, according to the WHO.
Madad said that while men who have sex with men are currently at the highest risk of infection, the virus is beginning to spread to a wider population.
“For example, in the United States, two children contracted monkeypox through household transmission from someone who had monkeypox. We know that these cases may start to increase over time as more cases of transmission occur in the community,” she said.
On Monday, WHO warns against complacency in containing the outbreak, saying there is no guarantee that the virus will continue to spread in certain communities.
Although cases have so far been concentrated mainly in the gay and bisexual communities, the UN health agency said there is little evidence that the disease will remain limited to these groups.
Rather, their early detection may be a precursor to a wider outbreak.
Madad said the best way to break chains of transmission is to vaccinate people who are at risk and may have been at risk of contracting monkeypox. However, she noted that access to vaccines is a problem, especially in the US.
This was announced on Friday by a senior White House official. Joe Biden considers declaring a public health emergency in response to a growing outbreak of monkeypox. Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid Response Coordinator, said the administration is looking into how declaring a public health emergency could support the US response to the outbreak.
More than 2,500 cases of monkeypox have been reported in the United States to date in 44 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, according to the CDC.
“Vaccines continue to be produced in territories, cities and states. By the end of this year, we will have about 1.6 million by the end of 2023 or mid-2023 – we will have millions of doses. Madad said.
“But the problem here is that it just isn’t enough,” she added, as demand currently outstrips supply. “We really need to get ahead of this epidemic.”
— Spencer Kimball of CNBC contributed to the report.