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WHO Declares Monkeypox an International Public Health Emergency


The World Health Organization declared the global outbreak of monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. The same designation was used for outbreaks of diseases such as COVID-19 and Ebola.

The WHO defines a public health emergency of international concern as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a public health risk to other countries through the international spread of disease. The label is necessary to trigger a coordinated global response.

“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Saturday during the press briefing in Geneva.

Tedros admitted deciding to designate the monkeypox outbreak as an international public health emergency despite the lack of consensus in the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations, which met on Thursday.

There are more than 16,000 reported cases from 75 countries and territories and five deaths. Since May, the U.S. has recorded more than 2,500 cases.

Despite the designation, currently, the outbreak is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners, Tedros said.

“That means this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups,” he added.

Tedros also warned that “stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.”

A month ago, the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations decided that the monkeypox outbreak did not represent a public health emergency of international concern. At that time, 3,040 cases of monkeypox had been reported to the WHO from 47 countries.

Since 2007 the World Health Organization has used this label for H1N1 flu, Ebola, poliomyelitis, Zika, and COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, monkeypox is mainly spreading through close, intimate contact, such as:

  • Direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids;
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact or intime physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex;
  • Touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids;
  • Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through placenta.

Symptoms of monkeypox can include fever, headache, muscle aches and backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and a rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appear on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.

The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks.

Resources:

WHO Director-General's statement at the press conference following IHR Emergency Committee regarding the multi-country outbreak of monkeypox - 23 July 2022

Signs and Symptoms | CDC

How it Spreads | CDC

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