The expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an "extraordinary" situation that qualifies as a global emergency, the World Health Organization chief said Saturday.
A global emergency is WHO's highest level of alert but the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly transmissible or lethal. Similar declarations were made for the Zika virus in 2016 in Latin America and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the decision on calling monkeypox a global emergency despite a lack of consensus among experts on the U.N. health agency's emergency committee, saying he acted as "a tiebreaker."
It was the first time a U.N. health agency chief has unilaterally made such a decision without an expert recommendation, according to The Associated Press.
"We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little," Tedros said. "I know this has not been an easy or straightforward process and that there are divergent views."
WHO's emergency chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, said the director-general declared monkeypox a global emergency to ensure that the world takes the current outbreaks seriously.
Although monkeypox has been established in parts of central and west Africa for decades, it was not known to spark large outbreaks beyond the continent or to spread widely among people until May, when authorities detected dozens of epidemics in Europe, and North America, and elsewhere.
Last month, WHO's expert committee said the monkeypox outbreak did not yet amount to an international emergency, but the panel convened this week to reevaluate the situation.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 74 countries since about May. To date, monkeypox deaths have only been reported in Africa, where a more dangerous version of the virus is spreading, mainly in Nigeria and Congo.
In Africa, monkeypox mainly spreads to people by infected wild animals like rodents in limited outbreaks that typically have not crossed borders. In Europe, North America, and at other points on the globe, however, monkeypox is spreading among people with no links to animals or recent travel to Africa.
WHO's top monkeypox expert, Dr. Rosamund Lewis, said this week that 99% of all the monkeypox cases beyond Africa were in men and that of those, 98% involved men who have sex with men. Experts suspect the monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America were spread via sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain.
Britain recently downgraded its assessment of monkeypox after seeing no signs of widespread transmission beyond men who are gay, bisexual, or have sex with other men and noting the disease does not spread easily or cause severe illness.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was "supportive" of WHO's emergency declaration and hoped it would galvanize international action to stamp out the outbreaks. The U.S. has reported more than 2,800 monkeypox cases and sent more than 370,000 vaccine doses to U.S. states reporting cases.
Some experts had questioned whether such a declaration would help, arguing the disease isn’t severe enough to warrant the attention and that rich countries battling monkeypox already have the funds to do so. Most people recover without needing medical attention, although the lesions may be painful.
In the U.S., some experts have speculated whether monkeypox might be on the verge of becoming an entrenched sexually transmitted disease in the country, like gonorrhea, herpes, and HIV.
“The bottom line is we’ve seen a shift in the epidemiology of monkeypox where there’s now widespread, unexpected transmission,” said Dr. Albert Ko, a professor of public health and epidemiology at Yale University. “There are some genetic mutations in the virus that suggest why that may be happening, but we do need a globally-coordinated response to get it under control."
Biden Continues to Improve After COVID Bout
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is recovering from COVID-19 after testing positive on Thursday.
As CBN News reported, the White House said the president is experiencing mild symptoms and will continue to carry out the full duties of his office.
According to an update from his doctor on Saturday, Biden, 79, now has body aches and a sore throat since his positive test.
Dr. Kevin O'Connor, the president's physician, wrote in his latest update on Biden's condition that the president's earlier symptoms, including a runny nose and a cough, have become “less troublesome.”
Biden has been isolating in the White House residence and continues taking the antiviral drug Paxlovid.
Your health is important. Do you have questions about nutrition, weight loss, boosting immunity or medicine? Learn more here!