Smallpox: WHO warns that identified cases may be the “tip of the iceberg”


The WHO also believes that the general public should not “worry” about the spread of the disease, which should be manageable “if we take appropriate measures now”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Friday that nearly 200 cases of monkeypox smallpox found in recent weeks in countries where the virus does not usually circulate may be “just the tip of the iceberg.”

“We don’t know if we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Sylvie Briand, director of the WHO’s Global Preparedness for Infectious Risk, during a presentation to the organization’s member states about the “unusual” spread of the virus. , during the World Health Assembly in Geneva (Switzerland).

Experts are trying to find out what caused this “unusual situation,” and preliminary results show no variation or mutation in the monkeypox virus, Sylvie Briand said.

“Now we have a chance to stop the transmission,” she said. “If we put in place the right measures now, we’ll probably be able to do it quickly.”

No deaths were reported

The United Kingdom announced the first case on 7 May. Since then, about 200 cases have been detected in countries far from those where the virus is endemic. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), exactly 219 cases were reported on Wednesday, but no deaths.

Smallpox, endemic in eleven Central and West African countries, has been suddenly detected in more than twenty other countries around the world, including the United States, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and a dozen European countries.

The Spanish Ministry of Health reported 98 confirmed cases on Friday, the United Kingdom 90 and Portugal 74. In the latter country, all cases are men, mostly under the age of 40.

“We are currently at the very beginning of this event,” Sylvie Briand explained. “We know we will have more cases in the coming days,” but “it’s not a disease that the general public should worry about. It’s not Covid or other diseases that are spreading fast.”

85% effective vaccine

Smallpox belongs to the same family as smallpox, which killed millions of people around the world every year until they were eradicated in 1980. However, smallpox is much less severe, with a mortality of 3 to 6%. Most patients recover after three to four weeks. The initial symptoms are high fever, swollen nodules and skin rashes.

Many cases involve homosexuals, but experts point out that there is no evidence of sexual transmission of the disease, which is more likely to be transmitted by close contact with an infected person with skin lesions.

In fact, there is no cure, but antivirals have been developed against smallpox, one of which was recently approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), according to Sylvie Briand.

Smallpox vaccines have been found to be 85% effective against monkeypox. However, most people under the age of 45 have not been vaccinated against smallpox and vaccine supplies are now very low.

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