WHO: Monkeypox outbreak 'unusual' and worrying but not yet global emergency

Monkeypox does not yet warrant classification as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern but will require “intense response efforts” across multiple countries to prevent further escalation, the World Health Organization concluded this weekend.

On Friday the global public health organization convened a meeting of its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee to discuss the monkeypox outbreak. As of the time of the meeting, WHO said it received reports of 3,040 cases from 47 countries since May.

The Emergency Committee acknowledged many “unusual” aspects of the current outbreak compared to past events, such as its spread across new regions across Europe and the U.S. as well as the “vast majority” of cases being observed among young men who have sex with men.

Still, the committee decided the outbreak currently falls short of WHO’s highest level alert, which currently is only applied to COVID-19 and the eradication of polio in Asia and Africa.

The decision was not unanimous, with WHO noting in its report of the committee meeting that “a few members expressed differing views.”

Still, all committee members “acknowledged the emergency nature of the event and that controlling the further spread of outbreak requires intense response efforts.” The group also said it would review new information on the outbreak “after a few weeks” to redetermine whether the declaration is warranted.

“What makes the current outbreak especially concerning is the rapid, continuing spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission into vulnerable populations including people that are immunocompromised, pregnant women and children,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement this weekend.

“That is why it is urgent that all Member States, communities and individuals take the recommendations of the committee for stepped-up surveillance, improved diagnostics community engagement and risk communication, and the appropriate use of therapeutics, vaccines and public health measures including contract tracing and isolation,” Ghebreyesus said.  

There have been 201 cases reported in the U.S. as of June 24 with California (51) New York (35) and Illinois (26) hit the hardest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first U.S. case was reported on May 17.

Last Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it had begun shipping monkeypox tests to five major commercial lab companies to ramp up the country’s testing capacity. The government said providers will be able to use these labs by early July.

“All Americans should be concerned about monkeypox cases. Thankfully we have right now the tools to fight and treat cases in America,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “By dramatically expanding the number of testing locations throughout the country, we are making it possible for anyone who needs to be tested to do so.”