WHO monkeypox meeting to decide if virus is matter of global health concern

World body will next week consider emergency status after 1,600 cases this year

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The World Health Organisation will hold an emergency meeting on the monkeypox virus next week to decide if the outbreak should be classified as a public health emergency of international concern.

There have been more than 1,600 confirmed cases this year in countries where the disease is endemic and in places where it is rarely reported.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the recent outbreak was “unusual and concerning”, prompting the need to consider stepping up action.

The WHO estimates there are thousands of monkeypox infections in about a dozen African countries every year. Most are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which reports about 6,000 cases annually, and Nigeria, where there are about 3,000 cases a year.

Its expanded spread has raised concern.

The emergency committee meeting will be held on June 23.

The classification is the highest health alert issued by WHO, and is currently only applied to polio and the coronavirus.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

Monkeypox virus was first reported in 1958 and can be spread by primates, rodents, and it occasionally jumps to people. It belongs to the same virus family as smallpox.

Most human cases have been discovered in Central and West Africa and outbreaks have been small.

The illness was identified in two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys. The first known human infection was in 1970 in a young boy in a remote part of the DRC.

Most monkeypox patients experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious cases may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands. The lesions can spread to other parts of the body.

In general, recovery takes about two to four weeks without the need for the patient to go to hospital, but monkeypox can be fatal in up to 6 per cent of cases and is thought to be more severe in children.

Smallpox vaccines are effective against monkeypox and antiviral drugs are also being developed.

The UAE has reported 13 cases since May 24.

Hospitals and medical centres in the Emirates have been advised to be on alert for symptoms, which include sores and lesions on the skin.

Confirmed cases will be treated in complete isolation in hospitals until they recover. Any close contact will quarantine at home for 21 days, with monitoring from UAE officials.

WHO to consider virus name change

The WHO said it may change the name of the virus after dozens of scientists wrote of the “urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising” name for the virus and the disease it causes.

Reference to the virus as African is both inaccurate and discriminatory, they said.

The WHO said it was working with experts on a new name would announce it in time.

Updated: May 31, 2023, 8:39 AM