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STORY: The World Health Organization called an emergency meeting to discuss the recent outbreak of monkeypox – a viral infection that has now spread to several countries in Europe, as well as to the United States, Canada and Australia.
Over 100 cases were confirmed or suspected in Europe on Friday, in what Germany described as the largest outbreak in Europe ever.
Dr. Theresa Tam is Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer.
“It’s unusual for the world to see this many cases reported in different countries outside of Africa. [FLASH] I think at the beginning of any outbreak we should cast the net wide to try to understand the transmission routes – we don’t understand it enough. There’s probably been some hidden chains of transmission that could have occurred for quite a number of weeks, given the global situation that we’re seeing right now.”
First identified in monkeys, monkeypox is more common to west and central Africa. Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes.
The disease typically spreads through close contact, including respiratory droplets, infected secretions or even contaminated clothing.
While many cases have been found among men who have sex with other men, Dr. Tam cautioned against focusing on any particular group of individuals.
“I think people should understand that it’s close contact – and that could happen in different ways. Households – we heard households in the United Kingdom.”
But unlike COVID-19, the risk to the general public is low, says infectious diseases expert Dr. Amesh Adalja.
“There’s a danger of viewing every further infectious disease outbreak through the lens of COVID-19. And you have to draw distinctions between a virus like SARS-CoV-2 and a virus like monkeypox, which spread in a totally different way, from totally different viral families. Monkeypox is a virus for which we have medical countermeasures, for which we’ve dealt with outbreaks in the past – it’s not a novel pathogen, and it doesn’t spread efficiently like SARS-CoV-2.”
There is no specific vaccine for monkeypox, but the WHO says that vaccines that were used to eradicate smallpox are up to 85% effective against the disease.