June 2, 2022

WHO, CDC Respond to Monkeypox Outbreak

On May 18, CDC announced a lab-confirmed case of monkeypox in a resident of the United States, and as of May 29, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported more than 250 confirmed and around 120 suspected monkeypox cases in 23 countries. Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that, according to WHO, primarily occurs in central and western Africa, where animals that may carry the virus are typically found. Since 1970, when the first reported human case of monkeypox occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, outbreaks have been most common in countries within that region. WHO explains that the current outbreak is unusual in that, as of this writing, “there is no clear link between the cases reported and travel from endemic countries and no link with infected animals.”

Monkeypox is named because it was first identified in monkeys kept for research purposes, but African rodent species are suspected to play a part in transmission to people. The disease may spread to humans through contact with infected animals, such as through eating improperly cooked meat. According to WHO, transmission between humans usually occurs through physical contact with infected people or contaminated objects, though transmission via respiratory droplets is possible during prolonged face-to-face contact. WHO’s monkeypox fact sheet warns that “people who closely interact with someone who is infectious are at greater risk for infection,” including health workers, household members, and other close contacts. The organization’s monkeypox Q&A page also stresses that “monkeypox is not typically considered to be very contagious” and that “risk to the general public is low.”

WHO explains that infected people will initially experience symptoms such as fever, severe headache, lymph node swelling, back pain, muscle aches, and lack of energy. After the onset of fever, a rash develops with fluid-filled skin lesions concentrated on the face, hands, and feet. According to WHO, symptoms “typically last between 2 to 4 weeks and go away on their own without treatment,” but medical complications and death are possible, especially for babies, children, and people with immune deficiencies.

As the monkeypox virus is related to the smallpox virus, treatments approved for smallpox may be used to treat severe monkeypox infections. CDC states that several treatments are available through the Strategic National Stockpile under Expanded Access Investigational New Drug Protocols.

Previous smallpox vaccination may provide some protection against monkeypox, WHO explains. Although the vaccine used to eradicate smallpox over 40 years ago is no longer available to the public, a newer smallpox vaccine was approved for use against monkeypox in 2019. WHO is working to improve access to this vaccine.

WHO urges against stigmatization or discrimination toward any demographic group in association with monkeypox. “We know how to stop this disease, and how we can all protect ourselves and others,” WHO states. “Stigma and discrimination [are] never okay, and [are] not okay in relation to this outbreak. We are all in this together.”

WHO released a statement on the organization’s response to monkeypox on May 20, and has also published an overview of the current outbreak, a fact sheet, and a Q&A page. In addition to CDC’s May 18 announcement, the agency has also compiled an index of monkeypox resources that includes guidance on prevention, transmission, and treatment, as well as guidance for clinicians, lab personnel, and veterinarians.