The outbreak of monkeypox is unusual but “containable,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday, confirming 131 cases in nineteen countries where the virus is usually nonexistent.
That number is still expected to rise, but experts say the overall risk to the broader population is quite low.
The virus is most common in remote parts of Central and West Africa.
“This is a containable situation,” the WHO’s emerging disease lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, said at a news conference on Monday.
“We want to stop human-to-human transmission. We can do this in the non-endemic countries,” she added—referring to recent cases in Europe and North America.
Monkeypox virus has now been detected in 16 countries outside Africa
Despite being the largest outbreak outside of Africa in fifty years, monkeypox does not spread easily between people, and experts say the threat is not comparable to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Transmission is really happening from skin-to-skin contact…most of the people who have been identified have more of a mild disease,” Van Kerkhove said.
Another WHO official added that there was no evidence the monkeypox virus had mutated, following earlier speculation over the cause of the current outbreak.
Viruses in this group “tend not to mutate and they tend to be fairly stable,” said Rosamund Lewis, who heads the WHO‘s smallpox secretariat.
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, aches, pain, fatigue, headache in the early stages, and then a rash, much like smallpox, that commonly appears on the hands and feet.
This rash is often itchy and uncomfortable, and scratching the bumps can cause scarring.
Monkeypox was first discovered in the mid-twentieth century amongst captive monkeys being used for research in laboratories. It has since spread across Africa and was only first officially recorded outside of Africa in 2003 in the United States.
The bout of cases recorded in 2003 numbered 81, and no one infected with the virus passed away. Experts believe the spread of the infection can be linked to infected prairie dogs that were brought into the United States.