The monkeypox outbreak has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, according to BBC
The classification is the highest alert that the WHO can issue and follows a worldwide upsurge in cases.
It came at the end of the second meeting of the WHO’s emergency committee on the virus.
More than 16,000 cases have now been reported from 75 countries, said WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
There had been five deaths so far as a result of the outbreak, he added.
There are only two other such health emergencies at present – the coronavirus pandemic and the continuing effort to eradicate polio.
Dr Tedros said the emergency committee had been unable to reach a consensus on whether the monkeypox outbreak should be classified as a global health emergency.
However, he said the outbreak had spread around the world rapidly and he had decided that it was indeed of international concern.
Too little was understood about the new modes of transmission which had allowed it to spread, said Dr Tedros.
“The WHO’s assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region, where we assess the risk as high,” he added.
A viral infection resembling smallpox and first detected in humans in 1970, monkeypox is less dangerous and contagious than smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980.
Ninety-five percent of cases have been transmitted through sexual activity, according to a study of 528 people in 16 countries published in the New England Journal of Medicine — the largest research to date.
Overall, 98 percent of infected people were gay or bisexual men, and around a third were known to have visited sex-on-site venues such as sex parties or saunas within the previous month.
“This transmission pattern represents both an opportunity to implement targeted public health interventions, and a challenge because in some countries, the communities affected face life-threatening discrimination,” Tedros said earlier, citing concern that stigma and scapegoating could make the outbreak harder to track.
The European Union’s drug watchdog on Friday recommended for approval the use of Imvanex, a smallpox vaccine, to treat monkeypox.
Imvanex, developed by Danish drugmaker Bavarian Nordic, has been approved in the EU since 2013 for the prevention of smallpox.
It was also considered a potential vaccine for monkeypox because of the similarity between the monkeypox virus and the smallpox virus.
The first symptoms of monkeypox are fever, headaches, muscle pain and back pain during the course of five days.
Rashes subsequently appear on the face, the palms of hands and soles of feet, followed by lesions, spots and finally scabs.