There have been 3,200 cases of monkeypox reported in nearly 50 countries in the past six weeks, a 52% increase from the previous week, the World Health Organization announced on Thursday as it convened an emergency committee on the issue in Geneva, having scheduled the meeting a week ago.
The cases include one death, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during the meeting’s opening address, released to the media via press release.
The meeting, which is closed to the media and the public, was called to advise the chief executive on whether the global outbreak of monkeypox constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern”. If the committee reaches this conclusion, it will offer temporary recommendations to prevent and reduce the spread of the disease and to manage the global public health response.
A decision likely won’t be announced until Friday, WHO officials said.
“I imagine it (an emergency) will be declared,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and critical care physician. Fortune Thursday.
“We should have reasonable concern for monkeypox – we don’t know its long-term complications,” added Galiatsatos, who treats patients with Long COVID.
Although it is easier to stop the spread of monkeypox than COVID, since the poxvirus is believed to be transmitted primarily through skin-to-skin contact, monkeypox has a long incubation period. Patients can take weeks to become symptomatic, making contact tracing more difficult, he said.
WHO emergency committees currently only exist for COVID-19 and polio. Seven other emergency committees have already been convened for diseases such as Ebola, H1N1 and MERS.
As of Wednesday, 156 confirmed cases had been reported in nearly half of US states, according to CDC data.
The fact that an emergency committee has been convened “tells you that the director is worried,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. Fortune Last week.
The WHO has often been accused of reacting too slowly, Benjamin said, adding of Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “I think he’s trying to get his hands on it.”
“When you see something so different, you want to know what you’re missing,” Benjamin said. “You want to define a strategy for understanding what you don’t know, evaluating what you know.”
Such a meeting would allow health officials around the world to establish an agenda for research and treatment of patients, he said.
“Hopefully we think about how we coordinate this across the world, because this is clearly a global outbreak.”
As the virus continues to move beyond Africa, where it is endemic, in an atypical pattern, scientists are racing to understand how it spreads.
Monkeypox is usually found in rural areas of Africa where people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels. It is usually spread from human to human through close contact, which can include sexual intercourse and can include contact with personal items such as linens and clothing. Airborne transmission is known to be possible but has not yet been confirmed.
Human-to-human transmission of the smallpox-related virus can occur via “respiratory droplets (and possibly short-range aerosols),” the WHO wrote in a June 4 situation update, in which it placed warns against large gatherings, which can promote transmission .
Earlier this month, the CDC raised its alert level for potential transmission of monkeypox among travelers, advising them to, among other things, wear a mask when traveling. On Tuesday, the masking board disappeared from its website. When asked why, the CDC said Fortune he had deleted the phrase “because it caused confusion”. The agency did not respond to a request for further elaboration, nor did it respond when asked if there were concerns about airborne transmission.
Most of the cases reported in the past six weeks have been in men who have sex with men. But other populations could have ongoing outbreaks that have gone undetected, experts warn.
The LGBTQ community tends to access health screenings frequently, which may mean its members are diagnosed more often. But that doesn’t mean other populations don’t carry the disease at equal or higher levels, Galiatsatos said.
“It’s not a gay-related disease,” he said, adding that heterosexual men can pass monkeypox to women just as easily, but may not seek healthcare. health as frequently.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com