by Jennifer Rigby
LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) – Scientists advising the World Health Organization (WHO) on handling the monkeypox outbreak say the window of opportunity to slow the progression is closing. reached for several months.
Currently, the total number of registered cases globally doubles every two weeks, and according to WHO data, more than 18,000 cases of contamination with the virus responsible for this disease have been registered since the beginning of the year in more than 75 countries.
Five deaths have also been recorded in Africa, where the disease is endemic.
According to a projection by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the cumulative number of infections could exceed 27,000 on 2 August across 88 countries.
After this date, the models are complex, but specialists expect to see the spread continue for several months or even longer.
“We have to try to get ahead of it,” explains Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“It is obvious that the window of opportunity (to achieve this) is closing,” adds this specialist, a member of the expert committee consulted by the WHO before this epidemic outbreak was declared a “public health emergency of international concern” last week .
➦ WHO calls monkeypox a global health emergency
This characterization calls for rapid action to try to slow the spread of the disease by increasing vaccination, testing, isolation of infected people and the search for contact cases.
“Transmission is clearly not under control,” emphasizes Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, also a member of the expert committee that advises the WHO.
For Jimmy Whitworth, professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the spread of the epidemic is not expected to stabilize for the next four to six months, or until those most likely to be contaminated are either vaccinated or infected.
Monkeypox has been endemic for decades in central and western Africa, but an unusual increase in cases has been seen since May in Europe and North America.
Usually transmitted to humans through contact with wild animals, the virus responsible for this zoonosis can also be transmitted through direct contact with skin lesions or mucous membranes of a sick person, especially during sexual intercourse, but also through contact with the patient’s environment (bedding, clothing, crockery, towels, etc.).
The incubation period varies from five to 21 days, the febrile phase lasts between one and three days, and the disease usually heals spontaneously after two to three weeks.
According to the researchers, the vast majority of cases recorded during this outbreak outside the African continent have occurred in men who have sex with men, especially those who have had multiple partners.
In France, a preventive vaccination campaign has been launched and more than a hundred vaccination centers have been opened.
“We are one of the very first countries in the world to have offered preventive vaccination fully supported,” said Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, Minister Delegate to the Minister of Health, on Tuesday during the meeting of questions to the government in the National Assembly.
According to the minister, a total of 1,749 cases had been identified on July 25, almost half of them in Ile-de-France.
If this disease is rarely fatal, this epidemic outbreak should not be neglected, assess the specialists, which provokes the risk of constitution of an animal reservoir of the virus in new countries, as is already the case in certain regions of Africa, or even the risk of the emergence of mutations that promote human-to-human transmission.
“The alarm had gone off (in Africa), but we continued to ignore it. Now is the time to wake up and do something,” warns Anne Rimoin. “An infectious disease somewhere is potentially an infectious disease everywhere.”
(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby and Natalie Grover, with contributions by Natalie Thomas in London and Sophie Louet in Paris; French editing by Myriam Rivet, editing by Bertrand Boucey)