The NHS describes monkeypox as a “rare infection that’s mainly found in parts of west or central Africa”. Monkeypox arrived in the UK last month and has quickly spread. So far, it is mainly sexually active young men who are affected, but anyone of any age, gender, or sexuality can become infected. The virus has also spread to the United States and Europe where it is becoming of greater concern.
In light of the growing case numbers, the WHO (World Health Organisation) has made the decision to assess whether the disease constitutes a public health emergency.
In a statement the Director of the WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said: “I think it’s now clear that there is an unusual situation, meaning even the virus is behaving unusually from how it used to behave in the past.
“But not only that, it’s also affecting more and more countries, and we believe that it also needs some coordinated response because of the geographic spread.”
The WHO’s definition of a public health emergency as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”.
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Should monkeypox become considered a public health emergency, it would mark an symbolic step in how the WHO believes nations should treat it.
Although monkeypox can’t spread as easily as COVID-19, the mistakes made by nations at the start of the pandemic remain fresh in the minds of governments and their peoples.
As a result, there is a keenness not to make similar mistakes.
While less transmissible, there are concerns this summer’s festivals will act as super-spreader events for the virus, events where large droplets flying between people could carry the virus.
As well as considering a re-categorisation of the virus, the WHO is considering a renaming of the virus too.
Dr Tedros said “[The] WHO is also working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes.
“We will make announcements about the new names as soon as possible.”
The move comes after scientists called for a change in the name, one described as “stigmatising” and “discriminatory”.
The desire to change the name follows on from a similar debate at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when variants were named after where they came from.
It is for this reason variants are no longer called the Kent or South African variant.
The experts wrote: “In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatising.”
With regard to monkeypox, there are two variants of the virus, the west African and central African variant.
The current outbreak is being driven by the less dangerous West African variant.
Symptoms of monkeypox to spot include:
• A rash
• High temperature
• Muscle aches
• Swollen glands
The rash will normally appear one to five days after infection with symptoms clearing up in a few weeks.