Monkeypox cases reach 35,000, as first human-to-dog transmission sparks worries

WHO raises concerns after a dog catches monkeypox from its owners in France. (Credit: Unsplash)

More than 35,000 recently confirmed cases of monkeypox accompanied by 12 deaths have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from 92 nations and territories.

This includes almost 7,500 cases from last week alone, making for the second consecutive week with a 20 per cent increase, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

Almost all of the cases are being reported from Europe and the Americas and involve men who have sex with men, Tedros told a virtual press briefing, underscoring the importance for all countries to design and deliver services and information tailored to these communities that protect health, human rights and dignity.

“The primary focus for all countries must be to ensure they are ready for monkeypox and to stop transmission using effective public health tools, including enhanced disease surveillance, careful contact tracing, tailored risk communication and community engagement and risk reduction measures,” said Tedros.

Tedros said vaccines may also play an important part in controlling the outbreak, and in many countries there is high demand for vaccines from the affected communities.

“However, for the moment, supplies of vaccines and data about their effectiveness are limited. Although, we are starting to receive data from some countries,” he noted.

“WHO has been in close contact with the manufacturers of vaccines and with countries and organisations willing to share those. We remain concerned that the inequitable access to vaccines we saw during the Covid-19 pandemic will be repeated, and that the poorest will continue to be left behind.”

Bavarian Nordic, the world’s sole manufacturer of US and European-approved monkeypox vaccines has currently closed its manufacturing plant for renovations – and does not expect to reopen until late this year. Meanwhile, a few wealthy countries, led by the United States, have snapped up all available doses.

Read more: As monkeypox spreads globally, will there be enough vaccines for everyone?

First case of human to dog transmission

WHO officials also confirmed the first case of human-to-dog transmission in Paris, where two men went to a hospital and were confirmed to have monkeypox. Twelve days later, a four-year-old male Italian greyhound that was allowed to sleep with them also tested positive for the virus, according to a recent Lancet article.

The case already prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue new guidance that people with monkeypox should avoid contact with animals, including pets, domestic animals and wildlife to avoid spreading the virus.

“Infected animals can spread monkeypox virus to people, and it is possible that people who are infected can spread monkeypox virus to animals through close contact, including petting, cuddling, hugging, kissing, licking, sharing sleeping areas, and sharing food,” stated the CDC guidance.

Dr Sylvie Briand, director of WHO’s epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention department, said it is important to differentiate between the emergence and reemergence of diseases.

“It’s something that we know. Most of the emerging viruses are coming from animals,” she said, adding that “at the beginning, it’s only sporadic cases”, referring to the fact that the monkeypox virus was only discovered in 1958, and for decades after that, circulated in a mostly self-limiting way between animals and human communities in central and west Africa.

But if the virus finds the right environment, Briand said, it can evolve to more effectively target humans, resulting in more localised transmission especially in conditions of “high human density, very close contact”.

In terms of disease reemergence, other factors then play out as well. “It’s often because the vaccine coverage is too low that those diseases reemerge,” she said. “And it’s very important to understand that vaccine coverage is a very, very important indicator of the protection of human beings against disease.”

Elaine Ruth Fletcher contributed to this story

An original and longer version of this article was first published by Health Policy Watch. It has been adapted by Geneva Solutions.