Statement by Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe
May 20, 2022
So far, at least eight countries in the WHO European Region – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – have reported cases of monkeypox in recent days.Outside of countries where monkeypox is known to be endemic, similar cases have recently been reported in Australia, Canada and the United States
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection that can spread from person to person and is caused by the monkeypox virus.
These recent cases are atypical for several reasons. First, because in this case, all but the most recent case had no relevant travel history to areas endemic for monkeypox in West or Central Africa. Second, because most of the cases initially identified were identified through sexual health services and were among men who had sex with men. Third, because of the geographical dispersion of cases in Europe and beyond, this suggests that transmission may have been ongoing for some time.
WHO is working closely with the countries concerned to further investigate these cases to determine possible sources of infection, how the virus spread and how to limit further spread. We also provide guidance and support on surveillance, testing, infection prevention and control, clinical management, risk communication and community engagement, and facilitate information sharing between countries and health networks.
Let me stress that most of the cases currently being investigated in Europe are mild so far. Monkeypox is usually a self-limiting disease, and most infected people recover within a few weeks without treatment. However, the disease can be more severe, especially in young children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals.
Anyone concerned about an unusual rash should consult their doctor or healthcare provider.
Suspected monkeypox patients should be investigated and isolated from the first presentation of symptoms. Monkeypox is usually not easily spread from person to person, requires close contact, and the virus enters the body through broken skin, respiratory tract, eyes, nose and mouth, and bodily fluids. The main way it can spread is through close physical contact, including sexual contact, with someone who has monkeypox.
As we head into the summer in the European region, with mass gatherings, festivals and gatherings, I am concerned that transmission may accelerate as the cases identified are sexually active cases and many people are unfamiliar with symptoms.
Hand and respiratory hygiene, as well as personal protective equipment and adequate isolation of suspected and confirmed cases, are also critical to reducing transmission in healthcare settings — measures we have been taking for COVID-19.
The detection and reporting of these cases shows that our surveillance systems are working, and I would like to thank the countries concerned for their swift action and transparent information sharing. It is vital that this collaboration continues as the situation develops further.
Finally, I want to stress that people infected with monkeypox must not be stigmatized or discriminated against in any way. Timely risk communication with the public is important, and public health agencies should widely disseminate accurate and practical advice on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
We will continue to provide updates as the situation develops.
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