President Joe Biden assured Americans the nation has enough vaccines to handle the monkeypox outbreak Monday, as the WHO warned its spread may accelerate in the summer and health chiefs probed links to festivals in Spain and Belgium as being centers of transmission for the virus.
Speaking on his first visit to Japan since taking office, Biden pointed out the U.S. had faced ‘larger numbers’ of monkeypox cases in the past and said there was ‘no need’ to impose any extra restrictions at this time.
It was a shift in tone from the weekend in South Korea, where the President warned before boarding Air Force One that ‘everyone’ should be concerned about the disease spreading outside west Africa — where it is endemic.
As many as 92 cases have been detected so far across 16 nations — mostly in Europe — with at least another 28 being probed, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. American officials have confirmed one case of monkeypox in Massachusetts, and are probing two others in New York City and Florida.
Dr David Heymann, who formerly headed the WHO’s emergencies department, said the unprecedented outbreak was a ‘random event’ that may be explained by risky sexual behavior at two mass events in Europe.
Cases are being disproportionately detected among gay and bisexual men, with a number in people who attended a Gay Pride festival that drew a crowd of 80,000 in Gran Canaria, Spain, and a fetish festival in Antwerp, Belgium.
European countries have been told to move to red alert and prepare a vaccination plan for people who come into contact with an infectious case.
Three US states have so far revealed they are probing cases of monkeypox. In both Massachusetts and Florida they have been linked back to international travel
The outbreak has now spread to 16 countries, with Argentina becoming the 17th to say it is probing a suspected case
President Joe Biden tried to assure Americans while speaking at a press conference in Japan Monday. He said the spread of the virus did not raise as much concern as that of Covid back in March 2020
Asked if the outbreak was similar to the early days of Covid, Biden said: ‘I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with Covid.
‘Look, we’ve had this monkeypox in larger numbers in the past.
‘Number two, we have vaccines to take care of it. Number three, thus far, there doesn’t seem to be the need for any kind of extra efforts beyond what’s going on.’
Pride festival in Gran Canaria is linked to Spanish and Italian monkeypox outbreak
The Gran Canarian pride festival attended by 80,000 people is being investigated after it was linked to numerous monkeypox cases in Europe.
Officials in Madrid, Tenerife and Italy all say they have at least one case in someone who attended Maspalomas Pride — held from May 5 to 15.
The Canary Islands public health services now say they are investigating any links between the cases and LGBT+ celebrations.
It comes after Belgian authorities said their three cases were linked to a fetish festival in Antwerp also held in early May.
Organisers said there is ‘reason to assume that the virus has been brought in by visitors from abroad to the festival after recent cases in other countries’.
A Spanish health source told national newspaper El Pais: ‘Among the 30 or so diagnosed in Madrid, there are several who attended the event, although it is not yet possible to know if one of them is patient zero of this outbreak or if they all got infected there.’
Spain said last week that it was probing cases linked to a ‘sauna’, which in the country is a term for a location where gay people meet to have sex.
A spokesperson for the department confirmed that one of the Italian men who has the virus was in the Canary Islands, but denied knowing if the man from Tenerife had travelled there, according to a report from the Spanish news website.
A second Italian man who was also in the Canary Islands contracted the virus. All three Italian men with the virus are unknown to each other.
Biden said yesterday: ‘Well, [the health advisors] haven’t told me the level of exposure yet, but it is something that everybody should be concerned about.
‘We’re working on it hard to figure out what we do and what vaccine, if any, may be available for it.
‘But it is a concern — if it were to spread, it’s consequential. But that’s all they’ve told me.’
America has faced several monkeypox outbreaks before, with the largest in 2003 when 47 people caught the virus after being exposed to infected dogs.
Last week 13million doses of a smallpox vaccine that also works against monkeypox were ordered for $119million, although health chiefs insisted this was not related to the recent outbreak.
Florida became the third U.S. state to reveal it was probing a suspected case of the virus on Sunday.
New York City is also probing a case, which is expected to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) later today after officials said they had tested positive for the monkeypox virus family. One individual has been found to have the infection in Massachusetts.
In Europe, the virus has been detected in more than nine countries including the UK, France, Spain and Portugal.
But the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said the risk of the virus spreading to the rest of the population was ‘very low’.
It said: ‘Most of the current cases have presented with mild disease, and for the broader population, the likelihood of spread is very low.
‘However, the likelihood of further spread of the virus through close contact, for example during sexual activities among persons with multiple sexual partners, is considered to be high.’
Monkeypox patients can be infectious for up to four weeks, or as long as they have symptoms.
Symptoms include a fever up to 21 days after infection, with a rash then appearing three days later on the face before spreading to the rest of the body.
Most cases are mild, but experts say the strain now spreading through the western world kills about one in 100 people it infects — similar to the fatality rate when Covid first took off.
Transmission occurs through contact with the infectious lesions, or droplets expelled by patients into the air.
But Dr David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist at the WHO, says physical contact is likely the key route of transmission in this outbreak — and warned it looked to be being spread sexually.
He said: ‘What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified transmission around the world.’
He added: ‘We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission.’
Undated handout file image issued by the UK Health Security Agency of the stages of Monkeypox
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection which kills up to one in ten of those infected but does not spread easily between people. The tropical disease is endemic in parts of Africa and is known for its rare and unusual rashes, bumps and lesions (file photo)
Chinese social media users blame US for monkeypox outbreak
Users of China’s social media have blamed the United States for the global outbreak of monkeypox, which has already spread to 16 nations.
Platform Weibo had monkeypox trending as a popular topic over the past three days, with the hashtag reporting two cases in America attracting more than 51million views.
Posts on the topic have been liked tens of thousands of times.
China’s state media has refrained from accusing the U.S. of intentionally spreading monkeypox, however.
This is a different approach from with Covid, when it made the accusation.
Health chiefs are probing links to a Gay Pride festival in Gran Canaria, Spain, after linking numerous monkeypox cases in Madrid, Tenerife and Italy to the event held between May 5 and 15 which attracted people from across the continent.
A health source told Spanish newspaper El Pais: ‘Among the 30 or so [monkeypox cases] diagnosed in Madrid, there are several who attended the event, although it is not yet possible to know if one of them is patient zero in this outbreak or if they all got infected there.’
People infected with the virus in both Italy and Germany attended the festival in Gran Canaria, health chiefs in the countries say.
In Belgium, three cases have been linked with a large-scale fetish festival in Antwerp, which ran from May 5 to May 8. Organisers said there is ‘reason to assume that the virus has been brought in by visitors from abroad to the festival after recent cases in other countries’.
For the disease to spread sexually is a significant departure from its typical pattern in western Africa where many people are infected by animals — typically squirrels.
WHO chiefs fear many more cases will be detected in the coming weeks as the virus appears to have been transmitting outside west Africa for some time.
Dr Hans Kluge, its top Europe official, said Friday: ‘As we enter the summer season… with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission [of monkeypox] could accelerate.’
He added that cases were being detected ‘among those engaging in sexual activity’ with many not recognizing the symptoms.
America has ordered doses of a smallpox vaccine — which works against monkeypox because of the close relationship between the two.
The jab, called Jynneous, is given as two doses about four weeks apart. It can be administered to people shortly after exposure to the virus to bolster their immunity.
It is about 85 percent effective against the virus, studies show.
Patients can also be given a smallpox drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week to treat patients.
In Europe, countries have been told to prepare vaccination plans to tackle the surging outbreak as Denmark became the latest country to be struck down with the virus.
European Union authorities are also set to publish a risk assessment, which will advise all member states to draw up an inoculation strategy to control the spread of tropical diseases.
The strategy, called ring vaccination, involves jabbing and monitoring anyone around an infected person to form a buffer of immune people to limit the disease’s spread.
Belgium yesterday became the first country to impose a compulsory 21-day monkeypox quarantine for anyone who tests positive for the virus, after recording three cases in the country.
MONKEYPOX: Strain ‘spreads sexually’ and is as deadly as the original Covid variant
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection which people usually pick up in the tropical areas of west and central Africa.
It is usually spread through direct contact with animals such as squirrels, which are known to harbour the virus.
However, it can also be transmitted through very close contact with an infected person.
Monkeypox was first discovered when an outbreak of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research in 1958.
The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the infection has been reported in a number of central and western African countries since then.
Only a handful of cases have been reported outside of Africa until now and they were confined to people with travel links to the continent.
How deadly is it?
Monkeypox is usually mild, with most patients recovering within a few weeks without treatment. Yet, the disease can prove fatal.
However it can kill up to 10 per cent of people it infects.
The milder strain causing the current outbreak kills one in 100 — similar to when Covid first hit.
Monkeypox shuts down some aspects of your body’s ability to fight infections.
Because of the presence of other viruses and bacteria which your body can’t fight off, in the worst cases patients can succumb to a lethal shock throughout the body and blood poisoning.
Death is more likely to occur in younger patients. The skin lesions are painful and disfiguring, and can be the source of further infections.
Is there a cure?
Because monkeypox is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, jabs for smallpox can also protect people from getting monkeypox.
One vaccine, Imvanex, was shown to be around 85 per cent effective in preventing monkeypox infection.
Antivirals and pooled blood from individuals vaccinated against smallpox can be used to treat severe cases.