The World Health Organization does not believe the monkeypox outbreak outside Africa will lead to a pandemic, an official said on Monday, adding it remains unclear if infected people who are not displaying symptoms can transmit the disease.
More than 300 suspected and confirmed cases of monkeypox - a usually mild illness that spreads through close contact and can cause flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions - have been reported in May, mostly in Europe.
The WHO is considering whether the outbreak should be assessed as a "potential public health emergency of international concern" or PHEIC. Such a declaration, as was done for Covid-19 and Ebola, would help accelerate research and funding to contain the disease.
Asked whether this monkeypox outbreak has the potential to grow into a pandemic, Rosamund Lewis, technical lead for monkeypox from the WHO Health Emergencies Programme said: "We don't know but we don't think so."
"At the moment, we are not concerned of a global pandemic," she said.
Once monkeypox has been contracted, the duration of the rash emerging and scabs falling off is recognised as the infectious period, but there is limited information on whether there is any spread of the virus by people who are not symptomatic, she added.
"We really don't actually yet know whether there's asymptomatic transmission of monkeypox - the indications in the past have been that this is not a major feature - but this remains to be determined, she said.
The strain of virus implicated in the outbreak is understood to kill a small fraction of those infected, but no deaths have been reported so far.
Most cases have cropped up in Europe rather than in the Central and West African countries where the virus is endemic, and are predominantly not linked to travel.
Scientists are therefore looking into what might explain this unusual surge of cases, while public health authorities suspect there is some degree of community transmission.
Some countries have begun to offer vaccines to close contacts of confirmed cases.
Monkeypox cases around the world
Over 20 countries where monkeypox is not endemic have reported outbreaks of the viral disease, with more than 300 confirmed or suspected infections mostly in Europe.
The outbreaks are raising alarm because monkeypox, which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys, mostly occurs in west and central Africa, and only very occasionally spreads elsewhere.
Below is a list of countries that have so far reported suspected or confirmed cases, in alphabetical order:
- AUSTRALIA on May 20 reported its first case and another suspected one.
- AUSTRIA confirmed its first case on May 22.
- BELGIUM detected two cases on May 20.
- CZECH REPUBLIC detected its first case on May 24.
- DENMARK confirmed a second case on May 24, a day after the first.
- FINLAND confirmed its first case on May 27.
- FRANCE's has confirmed five cases by May 25.
- GERMANY has confirmed three cases, with the first registered on May 20.
- IRELAND confirmed its first case on May 28, and is suspecting a second one.
- ITALY has reported 12 cases as of May 27, and is suspecting one more. The country detected its first case on May 19.
- The NETHERLANDS reported its first case on May 20. It has since confirmed "several" more patients, without stating the exact number.
- PORTUGAL confirmed 16 new cases on May 27, bringing the total to 74.
- SLOVENIA confirmed its first case on May 24.
- SPAIN confirmed 25 new cases on May 26, bringing the total to 84.
- SWEDEN confirmed its first case on May 19.
- SWITZERLAND reported its first confirmed case on May 21.
- The UNITED KINGDOM detected 14 new cases in England on May 24, taking the total to 70.
- ISRAEL confirmed its first case on May 21.
- The UNITED ARAB EMIRATES reported three new cases on May 30, bringing the total to four. It detected its first case on May 24.
- ARGENTINA confirmed its first case on May 27.
- CANADA reported 10 new infections on May 27, bringing its total to 25.
- MEXICO confirmed its first case on May 28.
- The UNITED STATES confirmed nine additional cases in seven states on May 26, bringing the total to 11 since the first infection was discovered on May 18.