Monkeypox: World Health Organization declares virus a global emergency

LONDON — The World Health Organization on Saturday said the monkeypox outbreak that has affected people in more than 70 countries has been elevated to a global emergency.

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Although the announcement does not impose requirements on national governments, it serves as an urgent call for action, CNBC reported. The WHO can only issue guidance and recommendations to its member states, according to the news organization.

The WHO called the increase of monkeypox worldwide an “extraordinary” situation, according to The Associated Press.

According to data compiled by the WHO, more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported across 75 countries this year, CNBC reported. The number of confirmed infections rose 77% from late June through early July.

“In short, we have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission about which we understand too little,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Saturday.

Last month, the organization declined to declare a global emergency, The Washington Post reported.

Monkeypox was discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research in central and west Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970, according to the CDC. Before the 2022 outbreak, monkeypox had been reported in people in several central and western African countries. It had not been known to spread widely among humans until May 2022, when authorities discovered dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and elsewhere, according to the AP.

Infections in the ongoing outbreak are reported overwhelmingly among men who have sex with men, the Post reported. Experts believe close contact during sexual activity is a major driver of transmission. The virus transmits through other forms of skin-to-skin contact.

On Friday, health authorities reported the first two U.S. cases of the virus in children.

Monkeypox is usually a self-limited disease with symptoms lasting from two to weeks, according to WHO’s website.

Deaths due to the virus have only been reported in Africa.

Previous emergencies declared by WHO include the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zika virus in 2016 and the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014, the news outlet reported.