Why health officials are less concerned about monkeypox than COVID

·Senior Writer
·2 min read

Public health officials around the world are trying to ease concerns about monkeypox after nearly 100 confirmed cases of the disease were reported in more than a dozen countries worldwide, including the United States.

OK, so what is it? How does it spread? And will it be the next pandemic? The answers to those questions and others below.

What is monkeypox? A cousin of smallpox, monkeypox has rarely been identified outside of Africa. Symptoms typically include fever, chills, rashes and lesions on the face or genitals. It can be spread through close contact with an infected person or their clothing or bedsheets. Cases are usually mild, and most people recover from the disease within several weeks without requiring hospitalization.

Lesions on the arm and torso of a monkeypox patient
Lesions on the arm and torso of a monkeypox patient. (CDC via AP)

Where have cases been confirmed? According to the World Health Organization, in the current outbreak there have been more than 90 confirmed cases of monkeypox in 15 countries, including Britain, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, the United States and Australia.

Is there a vaccine? Vaccines against smallpox are effective in preventing monkeypox, and some antiviral drugs are being developed.

What caused the current outbreak? The exact source is unclear, but according to the Associated Press, one leading theory to explain the spread of the disease is sexual transmission among gay and bisexual men at two raves held in Spain and Belgium.

“We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission,” Dr. David Heymann, a leading adviser to the WHO, told AP.

Mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions. (CDC via AP)
Mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions. (CDC via AP)

Why are health officials less concerned about it than they are about COVID? Because it’s less transmissible. During a question-and-answer session at the World Health Assembly in Geneva on Monday, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an American infectious disease epidemiologist who works with the WHO, said the spread of monkeypox in several Western countries is a “containable situation.”

“Transmission is really happening from close physical contact — skin-to-skin contact,” she said. “So it’s quite different from COVID in that sense.”

“This is not COVID,” Heymann said. “We need to slow it down, but it does not spread in the air.”

What has President Biden said about it? On Sunday, Biden drew the attention of some public health officials when he said that monkeypox is something “everybody should be concerned about.” On Monday, Biden sought to clarify those remarks, telling reporters in Tokyo, “I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19.”

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