WHO: Outbreaks of endemic diseases becoming more frequent

In this photo provided by the Unidad de Microscopía Electrónica del ISCIII in Madrid, on May 26, 2022, an electronic microscope image shows the monkeypox virus seen by a team from the Arbovirus Laboratory and the Genomics and Bioinformatics Units of the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) in Madrid. (UNIDAD DE MICROSCOPÍA ELECTRÓNICA DEL ISCIII, VIA AP)

LONDON/MILAN – Outbreaks of endemic diseases such as monkeypox and lassa fever are becoming more persistent and frequent, the World Health Organization's emergencies director, Mike Ryan, warned on Wednesday.

As the climate change contributes to rapidly changing weather conditions like drought, animals and human are changing their food-seeking behaviour. As a result, diseases that typically circulate in animals are increasingly jumping into humans, he said.

"Unfortunately, that ability to amplify that disease and move it on within our communities is increasing – so both disease emergence and disease amplification factors have increased."

Cases of monkeypox continue to rise outside Africa, mostly in Europe, and scientists are trying to pin down the reasons behind the spread.

Unfortunately, that ability to amplify that disease and move it on within our communities is increasing – so both disease emergence and disease amplification factors have increased.

Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization's emergencies director

The World Health Organization said it had so far received reports of more than 550 confirmed cases of the viral disease from 30 countries outside of Africa.

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.

ALSO READ: Monkeypox: WHO aims to minimize human transmission

In England, monkeypox appears to be spreading from person to person, the UK Health Security Agency said on Wednesday.

The usually mild viral disease, which is endemic in west and central Africa, is understood to spread through close contact. Until early May, cases rarely cropped up outside Africa and were typically linked to travel to there.

"The current outbreak is the first time that the virus has been passed from person to person in England where travel links to an endemic country have not been identified," the agency said.

According to the UKHSA, the majority of cases in the United Kingdom – 132 – are in London, while 111 cases are known to be in gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men (GBMSM). Only two cases are in women.

Recent foreign travel to a number of different countries in Europe within 21 days of symptom onset has been reported by 34 confirmed cases, or about 18 percent of the 190 cases of the disease that have been confirmed by the United Kingdom as of May 31.

So far, the UKHSA has identified links to gay bars, saunas and the use of dating apps in Britain and abroad.

ALSO READ: Unlikely monkeypox outbreak will lead to pandemic, WHO says

This 1997 image provided by the CDC during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox, which took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, depicts the dorsal surfaces of the hands of a monkeypox case patient, who was displaying the appearance of the characteristic rash during its recuperative stage.
(CDC VIA AP)

"Investigations continue but currently no single factor or exposure that links the cases has been identified," the agency cautioned.

Monkeypox can affect anyone, but many of the most recent diagnoses are the GBMSM community – many of whom live in, or have links to London, said Kevin Fenton, London's regional director for public health.

Recent foreign travel to a number of different countries in Europe within 21 days of symptom onset has been reported by 34 confirmed cases, or about 18 percent of the 190 cases of the disease that have been confirmed by the United Kingdom as of May 31

"As with any new disease outbreak, the risk of stigma and uncertainty is great," he said.

The UKHSA is working with groups including the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV and the dating App Grindr to communicate with sexual health services and the GBMSM community. It is also encouraging the LGBT Consortium and Pride event organisers to help with messaging in the coming weeks.

Monkeypox typically causes flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions that usually resolve on their own within weeks, but can kill a small fraction of those infected.

UK health authorities are offering Bavarian Nordic's vaccine, Imvanex, to contacts of confirmed or suspected cases.

READ MORE: WHO: Monkeypox presents moderate risk to public health

Meanwhere, in Italy, the cases have risen to 20 and are set to increase further in the coming days, the country's deputy health minister said on Wednesday.

"We have 20 cases in Italy, 19 are all people who have traveled where there has been a chain of contagion and perhaps – this has not yet been confirmed – only one case occurred as a second contagion," Pierpaolo Sileri told Rai Radio 1.

"There is an incubation period of a couple of weeks, it is clear that we will have more in the coming days," he added.