Men who have sex with men should “for the time being” reduce their partners and reconsider sleeping with new people to try to stop the global spread of monkeypox, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a Press conference in Geneva that 98% of the more than 18,000 recent cases of monkeypox reported to the agency had been among men who slept with other men. He urged members of this community to take steps to protect themselves amid the public health emergency.
“This is an outbreak that can be stopped if countries, communities and individuals educate themselves, take the risks seriously and take the necessary steps to stop transmission and protect vulnerable groups,” Tedros said.
“For men who have sex with men, this includes, for the time being, reducing the number of sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners, and exchanging contact details with any new partners to enable follow-up if necessary,” he advised.
These men might also consider avoiding big circuit parties or shirtless raves for the time being; Rosamund Lewis, technical lead for monkeypox at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, advised these men to reduce “exposure in places that may put them at risk, such as crowded settings where there may be a lot of physical contact between people who are already They may be in danger.” risks”.
Wednesday’s new WHO advice goes beyond what’s suggested by the CDC in the US, which has so far only said that men who have sex with men should avoid contact with skin with a person who has a rash that could be monkeypox.
Andy Seale, WHO adviser on sexually transmitted infections, said the advice on reducing sex was “a message in a package of prevention messages that must reach the people”.
People, and in particular men who have sex with men, are also urged to continue to learn about the virus, monitor themselves or others for symptoms and seek medical care as needed, Seale said.
Monkeypox cases have spread to 78 countries, according to the WHO, but only five deaths have been reported. About 10% of infected people have been admitted to a hospital to manage their extreme pain.
Lewis said the WHO was trying to walk a fine line in trying to make it clear that while anyone can get monkeypox, it is currently men who sleep with men who are predominantly affected.
“It’s a very difficult message to get across,” Lewis said.
The “key mode of transmission” of the virus so far has been “prolonged, intimate, personal contact that occurs during sexual intercourse,” Seale said, but there have also been some cases of domestic transmission.
The WHO convened experts on sexually transmitted infections to discuss classifying monkeypox as an STI, but Seale said this panel was not yet comfortable doing so.
“They have concluded that this is clearly transmitted during sex, so they are comfortable describing this as sexually transmissible, but have not yet felt able to conclude that this is an STI,” he said.
The US Food and Drug Administration announced on wednesday had cleared the way for nearly 800,000 additional doses of monkeypox vaccine to be distributed in the US after they officially certified a Danish manufacturing plant.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra described the FDA’s action as “a critical step in our plans to strengthen and accelerate our response to monkeypox, including the distribution of a safe vaccine and effective to people at increased risk of exposure to monkeypox.
The Biden administration has been accused of being too cautious and slow in its response to the outbreak, which the WHO formally classified as a global public health emergency on Saturday.
Both Tedros and Lewis cautioned that men who received a single shot of the vaccine should continue to be careful not to assume they have “instant protection.”
“It takes several weeks for the vaccine to kick in and produce an immune response,” Lewis said, “which means that someone who is being vaccinated against monkeypox must also continue to take protective measures and make safer choices for the time afterward. the administration of the vaccine. ”
The company that makes the Jynneos vaccine, the most commonly distributed monkeypox vaccine in the US, says it requires two doses for full protection, but cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC , is it so adopt a single-dose strategy for now, try to get as many shots as possible while the vaccine supply remains limited.