The World Health Organization said Tuesday that its European Region is the epicenter of the largest, most geographically widespread monkeypox outbreak reported outside endemic areas in western and central Africa.
The WHO European Region called for accelerated regional, country, and community-led action to stop the spread of the disease.
Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “The potential for further transmission in Europe and elsewhere over the summer is high. Monkeypox has already spread against the backdrop of several mass gatherings in the region.”
He said the WHO aims to contain this outbreak by stopping human-to-human transmission to the maximum extent possible.
As of May 26, 257 laboratory-confirmed cases and around 120 suspected cases had been reported to WHO worldwide, but no deaths have been reported.
Of those cases, 218 had been confirmed in the European region, with 106 in the UK the highest number. Canada has 26 confirmed cases of monkeypox and the US ten cases.
The WHO European region said, “there is a need to demystify monkeypox,” which is not a well-known disease in Europe, countering misinformation manifested across social media and other platforms.
It said there is a need to accelerate regional, country, and community-led action to stop the disease’s spread and ensure that no one is stigmatized, or it will damage the collective response to the disease.
Kluge said: “Based on the case reports to date, this outbreak is currently being transmitted through social networks connected largely through sexual activity, primarily involving men who have sex with men.
“Many – but not all cases – report fleeting and/or multiple sexual partners, sometimes associated with large events or parties.”
Kluge said it should be remembered from previous outbreaks that it was found that monkeypox is caused by a virus that can infect anyone and is not intrinsically associated with any specific group of people.
The WHO regional chief said that rapid, amplified transmission has occurred in the recent lifting of pandemic restrictions on international travel and events.
“Over the coming months, many of the dozens of festivals and large parties planned to provide further contexts where amplification may occur,” said Kluge.
“But they also provide powerful opportunities to engage with young, sexually active and globally mobile persons to raise awareness and strengthen individual and community protection.”
Monkeypox has not been at the forefront of research and development in infectious diseases.
According to the WHO, tools to manage it – including readily available diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics – are not likely to be immediately or widely accessible to countries.
“While one vaccine (MVA-BN) and one specific treatment (tecovirimat) were approved for monkeypox in 2019 and 2022, respectively, these countermeasures are not yet widely available,” said Kluge.
The WHO official said the goal is to contain this outbreak by stopping human-to-human transmission to the maximum extent possible.
“We will interrupt transmission if we act now,” said Kluge.