Countries not doing enough to contain monkey pox, says epidemiologist

According to an infectious disease epidemiologist, there are serious concerns that the US and other countries are not doing enough to prevent monkeypox from becoming a large-scale global outbreak.

Over the weekend, the World Health Organization activated its highest alert level for the virus, declaring monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.

The rare clue means that the WHO now considers the outbreak a threat to global health enough that a coordinated international response is needed to prevent the virus from potentially escalating into a pandemic.

“This is a unique outbreak where we know this virus, but it is causing a very large outbreak in a number of countries around the world. If we look at the number of cases, the United States is actually behind Spain in the number of cases,” told Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of the special pathogens program at New York City Health + Hospitals, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” Monday.

“It’s not an outbreak to take lightly. What’s really a big concern is that it’s becoming an established virus in the United States, but also in other countries where this virus is not endemic,” she added.

Madad said: “It’s really unacceptable”, especially in the wake of the Covid pandemic, that countries are struggling to contain the spread of monkeypox.

“Now that we have learned all the lessons from Covid-19, we should not be dealing with an outbreak of this magnitude and are not doing enough to ensure it does not become endemic,” she added.

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While the WHO statement makes no demands on national governments, it is an urgent call to action.

Growing virus cases

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said monkeypox can spread through respiratory droplets after prolonged face-to-face interaction or intimate physical contact. The virus can also spread through contact with bodily fluids, skin lesions, and contaminated items such as bedding and clothing.

More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 70 countries so far this year, according to WHO data, and the number of confirmed infections rose by 77% from late June to early July.

Madad said that while men who have sex with men are currently most at risk of infection, the virus is beginning to spread to a wider community.

“For example, in the United States, two children have contracted monkeypox from transmission from a household of someone who has monkeypox. We know that these cases can increase over time as more transmissions occur in the community,” she said.

On Monday, the WHO warned against complacency in controlling the outbreak, saying there is no guarantee the virus will continue to spread within specific communities.

While cases so far have been concentrated mainly in gay and bisexual communities, the UN health agency said there is little evidence that the disease will be confined to those groups.

Rather, their early detection could be a harbinger of a broader outbreak.

US Vaccine Challenges

Madad said the best way to break transmission chains is to vaccinate people who are at risk and may have been exposed to monkey pox. However, she noted that access to vaccines is a problem, especially in the US

On Friday, a senior White House official said President Joe Biden is considering declaring a public health emergency in response to the growing monkeypox outbreak. dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid response coordinator, said the administration is looking at how a public health emergency statement could bolster the US response to the outbreak.

The US has so far reported more than 2,500 cases of monkeypox in 44 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, according to the CDC.

“The vaccines are still being released to areas, cities and states. By the end of this year, we’ll have about 1.6 million by the end of 2023 or mid-2023 — we’ll have millions of doses,” Madad said.

“But the problem here is it’s just not happening enough,” she added, as demand currently outpaces supply. “We really need to stay ahead of this epidemic.”

CNBC’s Spencer Kimball contributed to the report.

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