The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the worldwide monkeypox outbreak an international public health threat on Saturday. What exactly does that official warning mean? NU.nl lists a number of facts for you.
To get straight to the point: labeling the outbreak as an international threat does not immediately have concrete consequences. Nor does it mean that the virus has suddenly become much more dangerous.
Its main purpose is to ensure that countries take the monkeypox virus outbreak seriously. The WHO also hopes that the warning will lead to a clear, global strategy to combat the outbreak.
This is not the first time that the WHO has labeled a virus as an international threat. This last happened in 2020 with corona. Outbreaks of Ebola (2014 and 2019), the Zika virus (2016) and the Mexican flu (2009) have already been awarded the award. Since 2009, the status has been proclaimed seven times.
Officially, there is now talk of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), while an advisory committee had voted against. That happened on Thursday. The members who had to vote on promulgating the warning were very divided. Fifteen committee members cast their votes, nine of whom were against and six in favor.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus decided to grant the status anyway. According to him, this is necessary because of the worldwide spread of the virus. He based his choice, among other things, on the vote of the committee and advice from advisers. According to him, it poses a worldwide danger, because the virus has also been detected in countries where it did not occur before. The sooner the world intervenes, the more sick people can simply be prevented, he reasons.
According to the WHO, there are up to now fourteen thousand people tested positive for the virus in 71 different countries. Worldwide, five people have died from the disease. So far, more than 700 infections have been detected in the Netherlands and no deaths. The outbreak started here in May.
Those who get monkey pox can suffer from fever, headache, muscle aches and general malaise. After a few days, a rash with blisters appears on the skin. Usually people don’t get very sick from an infection. The virus mainly affects men who have sex with men, but it is not a venereal disease. The virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact, so anyone can get it.
The WHO chief emphasized on Saturday that there is a high risk to public health from the monkeypox virus in Europe. In the rest of the world, he calls the risk moderate. Several countries have already announced steps against the spread.
In the Netherlands, vaccinations against monkey pox will be given from Monday. High-risk people can get a vaccine. It concerns about 32,000 people, although it is not all of them immediately.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that sixteen members of a special committee voted to award a PHEIC. That’s wrong. There are fifteen members. The article has been edited.