Everything WHO Has Said About Monkeypox From Pandemic Fears to Causes

The recent monkeypox outbreak has led to widespread concern across the globe, with many fearing it could lead to another global pandemic.

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection, and until now, had only been recorded in areas of western and central Africa. Symptoms of monkeypox include swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, chills and exhaustion. Some patients can then develop a rash, which will later form scabs.

For most people the virus is not dangerous—most make a full recovery. And there are no recorded deaths from the virus.

However, there can be risks to children and pregnant women with monkeypox have a great risk of stillbirth. Over 80 cases of monkeypox have been recorded worldwide so far, including in the United States and the United Kingdom, with over 50 suspected cases being investigated.

A picture shows hands with monkeypox lesions. Some people will develop a rash with the virus. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Some countries are now introducing mandatory quarantine periods for those who contract the virus, which feels all too familiar for people across the world amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

But what has the World Health Organization (WHO) actually said on the matter?

Could It Turn Into a Pandemic?

World health experts still know little about monkeypox and what has caused the outbreak.

On May 20, WHO said in a statement that it is working with countries across the world to better understand the extent and causes. However, while it may be too soon to tell just how serious this outbreak is, WHO has reiterated that this virus is different from COVID-19.

During a briefing on the monkeypox outbreak, Sylvie Briand, the WHO's director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said that people should not panic.

Briand said WHO does not want "people to panic or be afraid and think that it's like COVID or maybe worse." At the same conference, WHO also said there is a window of opportunity to prevent the outbreak from getting out of hand.

Other public health experts have said that monkeypox is not in the same vein as COVID-19.

Andrew Lee, professor of public health at the University of Sheffield in the U.K, told Newsweek that monkeypox is "much less infectious than COVID-19 is, so the speed at which it spreads in populations is markedly less."

"We are not likely to see exponential increases in the number of cases and huge epidemic waves like we saw for COVID-19," he said.

What Causes It?

The Monkeypox virus is a double-stranded DNA virus. It is a zoonotic disease, meaning it spreads from animals to humans. WHO said the animal reservoir is unknown, but it is likely to be from rodents.

According to the organization, monkeypox is usually transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids and through close contact with an infected person. This can include sex, cuddling, or coming into contact with monkeypox sores. It can also spread from a pregnant woman through the placenta, to a fetus.

WHO is currently trying to study how monkeypox can be transmitted through sexual transmission routes as most, but not all, cases so far have involved men who have sex with men.

How Can It Be Prevented?

One of the few similarities between this virus and COVID-19 is that precautionary measures such as isolation, are expected to help prevent the spread of monkeypox, according to WHO.

There is not a vaccine for monkeypox, but smallpox vaccinations are about 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox or resulting in milder illness. The original smallpox vaccines are no longer available to the public. A newer vaccine was approved in 2019 but has limited availability, according to WHO.

WHO is currently investigating how vaccinations can prevent and control the outbreak. However, until then, the WHO says that "raising awareness of risk factors and educating people" is the main prevention strategy for outbreaks right now.

"As a DNA virus, monkeypox is unlikely to mutate rapidly as we have seen with SARSCoV2 that led to mergence with multiple variants, including immune escape. This means vaccination as an intervention to protect at-risk persons is a feasible strategy that can help contain the virus. So I very much agree with the WHO's view that this is a containable" infectious disease," Lee told Newsweek.

Lee said that "population-level lockdown measures will not be needed."

"With Monkeypox, there is little evidence to suggest infectivity in asymptomatic individuals at the present time. This makes timely detection and management of infected persons more feasible at the point in time when they develop symptoms and are likely to be most infectious," he said.