A senior WHO official has warned that the monkeypox virus infection will spread quickly beyond the LGBT community.
The warning by Dr. Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency officer at the WHO, comes after the United Nations health agency declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern–as it did with COVID-19.
It also comes after the Journal of New England Medicine on July 21 published a major peer-reviewed study that found that the virus is primarily being transmitted through the sexual activity of gay and bisexual men.
Smallwood stated that the progress of monkeypox is being monitored by public health officials. This virus has been asymptomatic in gay men and was first seen within the LGBT community.
Until the spring of 2022,, monkeypox had been endemic in Africa. It was mostly transmitted by animals. But for the first time, the virus is spreading among gay and bisexual men in over 75 countries and territories, with over 16,000 infections and five deaths.
” At the moment, cases are still being reported by men who have had sex with women. However, we shouldn’t expect this to continue,” Smallwood stated in an interview on CNBC.
“In some cases, the disease spreads to a particular group of people.
Smallwood stated that the progress of monkeypox could be “the canary in the mine”, alerting the public to “a new threat to the health and well-being” beyond the LGBT population.
If that is the case, she stated that monkeypox may have an “increased health impact,” especially for those who are more susceptible to severe illnesses.
Recently, there have been two cases in infants and toddlers in the United States. They both come from families with gay men’s communities, according to an official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WHO Declared Monkeypox a Global Health ‘Emergency’
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the virus a global health “emergency” on July 23, prompted by the global growth in monkeypox cases.
“I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern,” Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
Ghebreyesus made his announcement after meeting with independent experts from the WHO’s Emergency Committee.
The WHO experts met in June, but failed to reach consensus as to whether monkeypox was a public health emergency. At the time, there were 3,040 cases in 47 countries.
At the reconvened meeting on July 21, the experts once again failed to reach a consensus, but Ghebreyesus made the final call, noting that the outbreak has spread rapidly around the world in a way that it has never before.
” I thank the Emergency Committee’s deliberations, and for their advice. He said that he was aware of the difficulties and divergent opinions among members.
Primarily Transmitted by Gay or Bisexual Men
Although officials at the CDC and disease experts don’t believe monkeypox to be a sexually transmitted illness, a large peer-review has shown that the virus is primarily transmitted by the sexual activity between men.
The Journal of New England Medicine’s study reported on 528 infections diagnosed between April 27 and June 24, of which 98 percent were in gay or bisexual men. Of these cases, 95 percent of the infections were suspected to have been transmitted through sexual activity. Of this group, 41 percent also had HIV.
The initial European outbreak was connected to large-scale LGBT events held in Spain and Belgium. Experts believe that the virus of monkeypox was transmitted sexually at these events.
An uptick in recent U.S. cases suggests transmission occurred at the tail end of Pride Month in late June and early July, based on the study finding that incubation is between three and 20 days (usually seven days).
The CDC recognized the potential for spread of HIV during U.S. LGBT events held in June but did not recommend that they be cancelled. Instead, it opted to send messages to the affected population via the health sector.
Dr. Paul Alexander is a former Trump Administration health officer and researcher who believes the CDC should do more.
” All that was needed was leadership to say no skin-to-skin contact, no anal sexual contact, and no sex for several weeks. We would have helped the high-risk group but it’s politically motivated and now, low risk general heterosexual population, especially bisexual men, is at increased risk,” Alexander said in a blog posting.