Monkeypox cases in Europe tripled in just two weeks despite officials downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak. The World Health Organization declared last week that the monkeypox outbreak is not a “global health emergency.”
Health officials now say the WHO will reconsider that classification shortly.
The WHO changed its tune on the news of the startlingly rapid spread among 31 European nations that have identified cases. Friday’s warning urged nations on the continent to act to head off the once-rare disease from spreading even further. Coordinated action, the WHO said, is needed.
European infections account for roughly 90% of the total reported outside of Africa, where monkeypox is endemic. Over 5,000 laboratory confirmed cases are now known worldwide.
Those numbers dwarf what is reported in Africa, where 1,715 cases are confirmed in 10 countries this year. The continent reports 73 deaths.
The WHO’s European regional director, Dr. Hans Kluge, said Friday that 99% of the cases so far are in men. The majority of those infections are men who have sex with other men, and most are between ages 21 and 40. There have been no deaths reported thus far from cases in Europe.
Kluge said a few have now emerged through non-sexual contact and in children. He warned against attaching a stigma to homosexual men, though he emphasized the outbreak’s reality must be clearly communicated.
He said the fear is that some with symptoms will avoid seeking medical treatment over the possibility of being “outed.” Kluge urged the spread of information among high-risk groups, especially ahead of large summer gatherings.
The U.K. Health Security Agency reported over 150 new cases in just five days last week. Director Dr. Sophia Makki encouraged people attending Pride events to check for blisters and rashes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 460 confirmed or probable U.S. cases of monkeypox as of Friday. Health departments are sending isolation orders to those who test positive.
Vaccines are limited but the number available is ramping up quickly. President Joe Biden on Friday ordered another 2.5 million doses on top of the 56,000 now available. That number is expected to reach nearly 300,000 during July.