WHO confirms monkeypox spreads sexually amid outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a concerning development in the Democratic Republic of Congo, stating that monkeypox, a disease previously believed to transmit primarily from infected rodents, has now been confirmed to spread through sexual transmission. 

This revelation comes amid the largest outbreak of monkeypox ever recorded in the country.

In a recent statement, WHO disclosed that an individual from Belgium, who identified as a man engaged in same-sex relations, tested positive for monkeypox after traveling to Congo in March.

The person had frequented underground clubs catering to gay and bisexual men. This marks the first definitive evidence of sexual transmission of monkeypox in Africa, challenging previous assumptions.

Monkeypox, also known as mpox, has been present in parts of Central and West Africa for decades, usually transferring to humans from infected rodents.

Historically, it caused limited outbreaks. However, recent epidemics in Europe, primarily among gay and bisexual men, resulted in WHO declaring a global emergency last year, with over 91,000 reported cases.

The current outbreak in Congo is characterized as “unusual” by WHO, affecting over 12,500 people and causing approximately 580 deaths.

This outbreak is noteworthy as it is the first time monkeypox has been identified in the capital city, Kinshasa, and the conflict-ridden province of South Kivu.

The figures are roughly double the toll in 2020, making it the largest-ever outbreak in Congo.

Nigerian virologist Oyewale Tomori, a member of WHO advisory groups, emphasized that the reported numbers likely underestimate the actual cases, revealing implications for Africa’s disease surveillance.

He expressed concern that the virus may be spreading similarly in other parts of Africa, with communities concealing information due to strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

Tomori warned that driving at-risk populations underground could hinder disease control efforts.

Monkeypox symptoms include fever, chills, rash, and lesions on the face or genitals, with most people recovering without hospitalization.

WHO highlighted the risk of monkeypox spreading within Africa and globally, suggesting potentially more severe consequences than the previous worldwide epidemic.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Tomori criticized the lack of mass immunization campaigns in Africa, contrasting it with the proactive measures taken in response to outbreaks in Europe and North America.

In conclusion, the confirmation of sexual transmission of monkeypox in Africa underscores the need for heightened awareness and a more concerted effort to address the growing outbreak in Congo, with potential implications for the broader African continent.

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