Pandemic or Epidemic: WHO Monkeypox Announcement Set for Today

The World Health Organization (WHO) is to determine whether monkeypox is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on Thursday.

WHO body the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee will convene experts at the meeting—which will take place at 12 p.m. CEST in Geneva, Switzerland—to discuss the rapidly spreading virus.

The virus, only seen in areas of central and western Africa before now, has not yet caused any deaths in newly affected countries. However, people have died in previous outbreaks.

If the outbreak is declared an emergency of international concern, it will require an internationally coordinated response to stop the spread.

PHEIC status is only ever considered when a disease becomes "serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected."

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
In this combination image, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivers a speech on the opening day of 75th World Health Assembly of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva on May 22, 2022 and an inset of the Monkeypox virus. iStock / Getty Images

Could Monkeypox Be Declared a Pandemic?

Currently, many have drawn their own conclusions that the monkeypox outbreak is at an epidemic level. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an epidemic is an unexpected rise in cases of a disease within a specific geographic area.

However a question on everyone's minds remains: could it become as serious as COVID-19, and be declared a pandemic?

Some experts believe that this current outbreak is already bordering on pandemic level.

Epidemiologist and health economist Eric Feigl-Ding said on Twitter on June 22 that there has been another "world record" of daily cases.

"It is now a clear and present danger as monkeypox is nearing a potential pandemic. This is an emergency," Feigl-Ding wrote.

The World Health Network also issued a statement on June 22, independently declaring the monkeypox spread a pandemic, "given that there are now 3,417 confirmed monkeypox cases reported across 58 countries and the outbreak is rapidly expanding across multiple continents."

For an outbreak to be declared a pandemic, the WHO must confirm that it is a "worldwide spread" of a disease. The WHO must determine that the monkeypox outbreak is severely affecting a worldwide distribution of people.

Dr. Vincent Hsu, epidemiologist and executive director of infection prevention for AdventHealth, told Newsweek that he believes monkeypox is an emergency, but he does not believe it will rise to a "COVID-19-like pandemic."

However, he said that immediate action is needed.

"Part of the challenges of controlling monkeypox is that early symptoms are non-specific, such as fever, malaise or headache. The characteristic rash usually doesn't appear until later in the disease course, so it may be easy to spread without knowing you have monkeypox. Controlling the spread requires both adequate public health resources in addition to a concerted and visible messaging campaign to health care providers and to the general public, which, in my view, has been woefully inadequate," he said.

"The public must be informed about how the disease is spread from person to person, and the need to seek care and get tested once it is suspected so that public health can do appropriate contact tracing.

"Although the disease will not rise to a COVID-19-like pandemic and the risk to the public currently remains low, if we don't redouble efforts to ensure the messaging and public health resources are in place, monkeypox is likely to remain in our communities. We don't need another infectious disease to worry about."