PARIS, France - The rapidly spreading monkeypox outbreak constitutes a global emergency, the World Health Organization's highest alert level, WHO director - general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared on Saturday.
First identified in monkey, the virus is transmitted chiefly through close contact with an infected person. Until this year, the viral disease has rarely spread outside Africa where it is endemic.
But reports of a handful of cases in the United Kingdom in early May signalled that the outbreak had moved into Europe.
Cases have since ballooned to more than 16,000 from than 75 countries. Five deaths, all of which occurred in Africa, have been reported so far.
HOW DANGEROUS IS IT?
Monkeypox is a virus than typically causes mild symptoms including fever, aches and pus - filled skin lesions. People tend to recover within two to four weeks, according to the WHO.
Anyone can spread the virus, but the current outbreak outside of Africa is concentrated almost exclusively among men who have sex with men.
Monkeypox spreads primarily via intimate skin - to - skin contact, usually with someone who has an active rash, as well as via contact with contained clothes or bedding. It is not as easily transmitted as the SARS - CoV - 2 virus that spurred the COVID-19 pandemic.
'COVID is spread by respiratory route and is highly infectious. This doesn't appear to be the case with the monkeypox', said Dr. Martin Hirsch of Massachusetts General Hospital.
The risk of monkeypox is moderate globally, except in the Europe, where the WHO has deemed the risk as high.
WHAT IS IT AN EMERGENCY?
Health officials from several countries had urged the WHO to label monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern due to the quick escalation of cases and concerns it may become endemic in more countries.
The emergency declaration aims to spur global action and collaboration on everything from testing to the production and distribution of vaccines and treatments.
The fatality rate in preceding monkeypox outbreaks in Africa of the strain currently spreading has been around 1%, but so far this outbreak appears to be less lethal in the non - endemic countries, many of which have stronger healthcare infrastructure.
Scientists are trying to determine what caused the initial spate of case and whether anything about the virus has changed. Increased global travel as well as climate change have generally accelerated the emergency and spread of virus, experts say.
Infectious disease experts say that years of financial neglect has left left sexual health clinics - who are on the frontline of the current monkeypox response - ill - prepared to curb further spread.
Health officials say that people should avoid close personal contact with someone who has a illness presenting with a distinctive rash or who is otherwise unwell. People who suspect they have monkeypox should isolate and seek medical care.
Health official have also offering vaccines to high - risk individuals and those that have recently been in close contact with an infected person.
Monkeypox symptoms often resolve on their own within weeks. Patients may receive extra fluids and additional treatment for secondary bacterial infections.
An antiviral agent called tecovirimat - branded an TPOXX and made by SIGA Technologies - has U.S. and E.U. approval for smallpox, while its European approval also includes monkeypox and cowpox.