World Health Organisation Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Herni P Kluge, has alerted that the likelihood that further transmission of the monkeypox virus this summer is “high” and that action is needed to control the “fast-evolving situation”, according to a press release by the WHO.
As of 26 May, there were 257 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus and 120 suspected cases across the world. The infection is typically mild, and has caused no reported deaths.
In Belgium, there are currently ten confirmed cases of the virus and two additional probable cases, according to data from Sciensano. All infections have been found in men between 28 and 43 years old.
The WHO is warning that “many of the dozens of festivals and large parties planned to provide further contexts where amplification may occur over the coming months.”
Dr. Kluge acknowledges that these events can also be an opportunity to “engage with young, sexually active and globally mobile persons” on the risk of infection.
In spite the fact that the virus was currently being transmitted via “social networks that are connected largely through sexual activity, primarily involving men who have sex with men,” infections have been reported in various communities.
Kluge highlights that the virus is not intrinsically associated with any specific group of people. “The gay and bisexual communities have high awareness and rapid health-seeking behaviour when it comes to their own and their communities’ sexual health. Indeed, we should applaud them for their early presentation to health-care services.”
It is also unknown whether the monkeypox virus can be spread by semen or vaginal fluids, nor whether it remains there.
According to the WHO, Europe now needs an effective response to the virus. According to Dr Kluge, this will not require the same extensive population measures as were needed with Covid-19.
“The virus does not transmit in the same way. But -and this is important- we do not yet know if we will be able to contain its spread in a complete way. For that, we need a significant & urgent reduction in exposures through clear communication, community-led action, case isolation during the infectious period, and effective contact tracing and monitoring,” the WHO chief said.