Israel reports first monkeypox case in Middle East as WHO predicts more

The virus formerly contained within parts of Africa is being detected in people with no known link to the continent

About a dozen countries with no known history of monkeypox have reported cases of the virus. Reuters
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Israel has reported the Middle East’s first case of monkeypox after a spate of infections in Europe that the World Health Organisation says is likely to grow.

Israel’s Health Ministry said on Saturday that the virus was detected in a man who had returned from abroad.

He was admitted to hospital in Tel Aviv in a stable condition and medical teams are looking into other suspected cases.

The UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have increased monitoring for monkeypox.

It is spread by close contact, so it can be contained fairly easily through such measures as self-isolation and good hygiene.

The WHO said on Saturday that 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox had been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic for the virus.

It said it would provide more guidance on how to mitigate its spread.

“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic,” the UN agency said.

Monkeypox is endemic in parts of west and central Africa, and cases had previously been seen only among people with links to those areas. But this year, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the US, Sweden and Canada have reported infections.

Most were in young men who had not previously travelled to Africa. France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria have also identified cases.

The smallpox-related disease causes fever, body aches, chills and fatigue in most patients. People with severe cases can develop a rash and lesions on the face, hands and other parts of the body.

“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 its transmission around the world,” WHO official David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist, told Reuters.

Health officials in Britain, which reported 20 cases on Friday, said it was seeing new infections daily and that community transmission was now the norm.

“We are finding cases that have no identified contact with an individual from West Africa, which is what we’ve seen previously in this country,” said Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency.

More than 100 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported in Europe in the past week, with German officials describing the outbreak as the largest ever in the region.

Austria confirmed its first case on Sunday, and health officials in the Netherlands said they found “several patients” with monkeypox on Saturday, a day after reporting the country’s first infection.

None of the recent cases have caused death. WHO estimates the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people, but smallpox vaccines offer protection and some antiviral drugs are being developed.

Experts in Africa say the pattern of transmission is unlike anything they have seen.

“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly led the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several WHO advisory boards.

“This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he told Associated Press.

Shabir Mahdi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said a detailed investigation of the outbreak in Europe, including determining who the first patients were, was now critical.

“We need to really understand how this first started and why the virus is now gaining traction,” he said. “In Africa, there have been very controlled and infrequent outbreaks of monkeypox. If that’s now changing, we really need to understand why.”

Dr Heymann, the WHO official, said it was “biologically plausible” the virus had been circulating outside the countries where it is endemic but Covid-19 lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions had curbed its spread.

Updated: May 23, 2022, 6:23 AM
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