There has been a lot of misinformation about monkeypox. We’ve unpacked five crucial things to know.
Monkeypox has joined COVID-19 and polio on the official list of public health emergencies
On 23 July, the World Health Organization officially designated monkeypox as a “public health emergency of international concern.” Currently only COVID-19 and polio are on that list. At least 75 countries have reported over 16,000 cases so far. The WHO is forecasting that there could be over 27,000 cases across 88 countries by next week, with case numbers doubling every two weeks.
The WHO decided to declare monkeypox an emergency to draw more attention to the outbreak and to spur action, including a coordinated international response. This could include investing more resources and encouraging nations to share vaccines, treatments, and other resources to contain outbreaks.
There are still some unknowns, but it’s currently less of a global threat than the early days of COVID
Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox has a very low fatality rate (there have only been five reported deaths during this most recent outbreak). It can generally be treated just by managing symptoms. There’s an antiviral drug called Tecovirimat (or TPOXX) that is occasionally used for severe cases. There’s also a vaccine. The Jynneos vaccine protects against smallpox and monkeypox. It can help reduce symptoms, even if taken after exposure.
But, just like COVID-19 and other health crises, access to medicines is not currently equal, and some countries have limited or no access to vaccines and treatments.
It’s been around for a few decades
Africa has been dealing with outbreaks of monkeypox since the 1970s. The current concentration of cases is mostly in Europe. Health experts are calling out the hypocrisy that it took an outbreak in Europe and North America to receive international attention.
There’s also been misinformation that this most recent outbreak started in Africa and spread from there. It did not. It most likely started in the United Kingdom in May.
It’s another reason pandemic preparedness is so important
There could have been more global attention and steps to address the virus years ago when monkeypox was spreading through some parts of Africa. Instead, global leaders took a national self-interest approach. It’s the same reason why attention to COVID-19 is waning, with higher income countries able to “move on” from the pandemic.
The monkeypox outbreak is a reminder that we need a holistic pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response system. We need global and regional leadership and investments for surveillance and monitoring so we can detect and respond to outbreaks quickly. And we need to strengthen health systems through health worker training, digital health innovation, and access to care for all.
Until we do, more disease outbreaks and deadly variants will devastate already overstretched health systems and hard-hit economies.
There are troubling stigmas developing
The current outbreak has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men. This has led to worrying stigmas and misinformation about the virus.
Monkeypox does not only infect men who have sex with men. It is crucial to combat this misinformation and to ensure stigmas do not limit response efforts. “Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus,” warned WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The virus can spread a few ways, including close contact with someone who has an infection, through respiratory droplets (like from sneezing or coughing), and by touching infected items. The WHO hopes to learn more about transmission now that it has declared it a public emergency.