South Africa announced this Thursday (23) that it has registered the first case of monkeypox, which has already been discovered in about 40 countries. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Committee is meeting for the first time to decide whether the increase in cases represents an international public health emergency.
According to South African Health Minister Joe Phaahle, the patient is a 30-year-old man from Johannesburg who has not traveled. This means that the contamination did not occur outside the country.
Health authorities are also trying to find people with whom the patient has been in contact. No data were published on the health condition of the infected person or on the symptoms he developed.
Signs of the disease are usually fever, swollen lymph nodes and a skin rash. The virus is eliminated in the body between two and three weeks after infection.
More than 2,000 cases worldwide
After the initial wave in 10 African countries, 84% of new cases were reported this year in Europe and 12% in the United States. Since the beginning of 2022, almost 2,100 infections have been detected worldwide.
Last week, the WHO declared that the epicenter of monkeypox is Europe, but other countries have been counting infections since May. This Thursday, the organization must decide whether the epidemic will be declared an international emergency in public health and whether it will give recommendations for vaccination. All decisions will be announced on Friday (the 24th).
Final approval will be in the hands of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. If a state of emergency is declared, the committee must make recommendations to “prevent and reduce the spread of the disease,” the organization said.
According to the WHO, the number of cases worldwide should be much higher than officially recorded. Experts believe the virus was already circulating before contamination began to bring the medical community to alert.
The WHO is also discussing a possible name change for the disease, which some countries find stigmatizing. Many scientists argue that only the name of the new strain of circulating virus, hMPXV, should be used. Earlier this month, more than 30 experts, mostly Africans, published an open letter calling for a change in the nomenclature so that it “is not discriminatory”.
Orthopoxvirus was discovered by Danish scientists in the 1950s in monkeys in laboratory cages. Cases of the disease in humans have been reported since the 1970s.
The causative agent is considered rare and is generally transmitted to individuals by infected animals, most commonly rodents. However, current infections mainly occur in humans.
For many experts, calling the disease monkeypox basically implies a connection with African countries. “It’s not a disease that can really be attributed to monkeys,” says virologist Oyewale Tomori of Redeemer University in Nigeria.
The African continent has historically been associated with major pandemics. “We saw this with HIV in the 1980s or the Ebola virus in 2013, and then with Covid and the alleged‘ South African variants ’,” notes epidemiologist Oliver Restif. “This is a broader debate and is linked to the stigmatization of Africa,” he added.
The specialist even criticizes the images that the press uses to illustrate news about the disease. According to him, these are often “old photos of African patients”, while in reality the current cases are “much less serious” and outside the continent, he said.
(According to AFP)