COPENHAGEN: The World Health Organization on Friday called for “urgent action” against smallpox in Europe, given the tripling of cases seen two weeks ago on the continent.
In a statement, the regional director of the health organization urged European countries to “increase their efforts in the coming weeks and months to prevent smallpox from taking hold in a larger geographic area”.
“Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to change course in the race against the spread of the disease,” said WHO director for Europe, Hans Kluge.
According to UN agency data, Europe now has more than 4,500 laboratory-confirmed cases, three times as many as in mid-June.
This corresponds to 90% of the cases registered in the world since mid-May, when this disease, until then endemic only in ten African countries, began to multiply in Europe.
Known in humans since the 1970s, monkeypox is considered much less dangerous and contagious than its cousin, smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980. An unusual increase in cases has been detected since May outside the central and western regions of African countries where the virus usually circulate.
WHO experts on Saturday considered the outbreak of cases as a health threat whose evolution was very worrying, but without reaching the stage of a global health emergency for the moment.
Despite this decision, “the rapid evolution and urgent nature of this event means that the (expert) commission will reconsider its position soon”, indicates WHO Europe.
The epicenter of this new contagion, Europe now has 31 countries or territories that have reported smallpox cases.
The United Kingdom has the highest number of cases so far (1076 according to the British authorities), ahead of Germany (838), Spain (736), Portugal (365) and France (350), according to data from the European Prevention Center. and Disease Control (ECDC).
London’s chief medical officer for public health Kevin Fenton on Thursday urged anyone with symptoms of smallpox not to attend the planned Pride march in the British capital this weekend.
In this disease transmitted by very close contact, 99% of the cases currently concern young men (20 to 40 years), mainly homosexuals, according to the WHO.
The UN agency recommended that countries step up surveillance of the disease, including its sequencing, and build capacity to diagnose and respond to it.
WHO also encouraged countries to communicate with affected groups and the general public.
“There is simply no room for passivity,” insisted Hans Kluge.
On Friday, the Danish laboratory Bavarian Nordic, the only laboratory to manufacture a vaccine already approved specifically against monkeypox, announced a new delivery of 2.5 million doses to the United States.
This is in addition to an initial order of 500,000 doses from US authorities made a few weeks ago for this vaccine. The latter is marketed under the name Jynneos in the United States, while in Europe it is called Imvanex.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on Tuesday that it has begun examining a human smallpox vaccine to extend its use against monkeypox.
The disease initially manifests as a high fever and quickly progresses to a rash, with crusting. Most often benign, it usually heals spontaneously after two to three weeks.