The World Health Organization has warned that “ongoing transmission” of monkeypox worldwide could see the virus begin to spread in high-risk groups, such as pregnant women, children and immunocompromised people.
It said on Wednesday it is investigating reports of infected children, including two cases in the UKas well as following up on reports in Spain and France.
None of the cases in children were serious.
monkeypox has now been identified in more than 50 countries outside Africa – where the viral disease is endemic – with a confirmed death and more than 3,400 cases since the outbreak was first reported in May.
Cases are also on the rise in those countries, the WHO said, calling for more testing.
“I am concerned about continued transmission as it would suggest that the virus could establish itself and pass into high-risk groups, including children, immunocompromised and pregnant women,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The WHO has already provided detailed guidance on the outbreak and warned earlier this month of a “fast evolving event” that will spread more widely if no action is taken.
But over the weekend it decided the outbreak is not yet a global health emergency – the highest alarm level.
When he spoke, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said he still remained “deeply concerned” about the “evolving health threat” of the virus, which he would monitor “extremely closely”.
Most cases are still seen in men who have sex with men. It’s not yet clear whether that’s because the virus is spreading among social networks within that group, or because those individuals are more aware and proactive about their sexual health.
But because monkeypox can be spread through any form of close physical contact, the assumption is that if the cases continue to grow, monkeypox will spread more widely, if they haven’t already.
According to the latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), there were 1,076 confirmed cases in the UK as of June 28.
The WHO has also said it is working on a mechanism to distribute vaccines more fairly, after countries like the UK and the US suggested they would be willing to share their stocks of smallpox vaccines, which also protect against monkeypox.
Monkeypox doesn’t spread nearly as easily as COVID, and vaccines and treatments are available, unlike the coronavirus when it emerged.