What is monkeypox?
The virus that causes monkeypox is relatively uncommon and is typically confined to the forested regions of Central and West Africa. The disease originates in animals. In the last 50 years or so, the disease has been observed in humans as well.
Because it takes very close, personal contact between humans for the monkeypox virus to be able to enter the body, the disease does not typically spread quickly from one person to another. This could happen if the skin is broken, if the eyes, nose, or mouth are affected, or if there is direct contact with the lesions, bodily fluids, or respiratory droplets of an infected person. It can also be acquired through prolonged contact with infected clothing, bedding, and towels of an infected person.
Most infected people recover within weeks without treatment. On the other hand, the disease may present more severe symptoms, particularly in younger children, pregnant women, and people whose immune systems are weak.
WHO statement overview
In May 2022, the European Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an unusual epidemic of monkeypox following reports of a number of cases in the several Member States not related to endemic countries. All of the cases detected so far in this outbreak have been identified as the West African clade, which is a milder strain. Patients presenting initially with monkeypox have been identified primarily, but not exclusively, among men who have sex with men (MSM) seeking treatment in sexual health clinics. It is important to note, however, that anyone in close contact with an infectious person could also catch monkeypox, regardless of sexuality.
Although anyone can catch monkeypox, not everyone is at the same risk. Those who interact closely with an infectious person, including through sexual contact, are at a higher risk for infection; especially sexual partners, but also potentially household members and health care workers.
European Member States affected by monkeypox have initiated public health research to better comprehend the situation, including the launch of epidemiological and virological studies. Countries are also trying to implement standard precautions, such as case identification and contact tracing, and providing patients with supportive care. Importantly, they are having a conversation about risks associated with monkeypox and guidance on how to prevent infection, engaging with community actors to make sure many of the most likely to be affected consider making health-protective decisions based on accurate information.
WHO is assisting with information sharing to support investigations into the outbreak of monkeypox in the area. In addition, it is developing and disseminating technical recommendations on other aspects of the disease, as well as developing and sharing guidance for authorities on how to protect frontline workers who may be at risk. This includes considering the perceptions and behaviors of diverse population groups when communicating risks.