Monkeypox Outbreak Explosion as 1,300 Suspected Cases Reported, 58 Deaths

Over 1,300 cases of suspected monkeypox cases and 58 deaths have now been reported worldwide as part of a new outbreak of the viral disease. The vast majority of these cases have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) up until May 8 this year.

The cases there are in addition to the fewer cases and suspected cases reported in various countries across Europe and in North America this month, which have spread without known epidemiological links to West and Central Africa for the first time.

The DRC cases this year so far seem to be in line or even less than reported in previous years. In 2020 the WHO said that from January 1 through September 13 there were a total of 4,594 suspected cases of monkeypox, with 171 deaths that year.

During the same period in 2019 there were 3,794 suspected cases and 73 deaths and in 2018 there were 2,850 suspected cases.

The current European outbreak has sparked some concern amongst health authorities of affected countries who have ordered varying amounts of closely-related smallpox vaccines.

Earlier today Germany also confirmed its first case of monkeypox, following the likes of France, Italy, Sweden, and Australia.

On Thursday Canada confirmed two cases of monkeypox after authorities in Quebec said they were investigating 17 cases.

"These are the first two cases confirmed in Canada," a statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada read. "This is an evolving and ongoing investigation, both in Canada and around the world. More information is needed to assess if there are increased health risks to people in Canada."

In the U.S., six people are being monitored for possible infections after they sat near an infected traveler on a flight, and separately another person is being investigated for a possible infection in New York City. This is in addition to a person in Massachusetts who was confirmed to have the virus earlier this week.

Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Thursday that the situation was "very unusual," adding that "monkeypox is normally only reported in West Africa or Central Africa, and we don't see it in the United States or in Europe."

Investigations into the recent cases continue, though health authorities in the U.K. and elsewhere have noted that many of the recent cases were identified in men who have sex with men (MSM) even though the virus is not typically described as a sexually transmitted infection.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a press release on Thursday: "Public health organizations and community-based organizations should take steps to raise awareness on the potential spread of monkeypox in communities of individuals identifying as MSM or having casual sex or who have multiple sexual partners.

"Individuals presenting with such symptoms should seek specialist care. Those individuals engaging with multiple sexual partners or having casual sex should be particularly vigilant."

Monkeypox is a viral disease first reported in humans in 1970 in the DRC. It can be spread between humans or from animals to humans via close contact as the virus can enter broken skin, the respiratory tract, mucous membranes like the eyes, nose, or mouth, and through contact with bodily fluids. Transmission through indirect contact is also possible, like contaminated linens.

Symptoms are described as similar to but milder than those of smallpox according to the CDC, and include fever, aches, exhaustion, and a body rash. The illness can be fatal.

Health workers in Africa
Health workers seen at the Doctors Without Borders center in Zomea Kaka in the Central African Republic in October, 2018, where people were tested for monkeypox. Charles Bouessel/AFP/Getty