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World Health Organization says it's "not concerned" about monkeypox becoming pandemic

U.S. has vaccines for monkeypox outbreak
U.S. officials prepare to release monkeypox vaccines as more cases emerge 05:07

The monkeypox virus is rarely seen outside of Africa, so the recent outbreak of cases worldwide has caused concern among global health experts. But on Monday, the World Health Organization said it is unlikely this will turn into a pandemic. 

Rosamund Lewis, who leads the smallpox secretariat of the WHO's Emergencies Programme, said that right now, "We are not concerned of a global pandemic." She did say, however, that agency officials are concerned about the long list of unknowns pertaining to monkeypox and the virus' spread. 

"We are concerned that individuals may acquire this infection through high-risk exposure if they don't have the information they need to protect themselves," Lewis said, "and we are concerned that because the global population is not immune to orthopoxviruses since the end of smallpox eradication, that the virus may attempt to exploit a niche and spread more easily between people. But we don't have the answer to this question yet." 

Both smallpox and monkeypox belong to the same genus of virus, known as orthopoxvirus. Monkeypox is found in wild animals, and people who contract the virus can experience a fever, headache, body aches, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. After a few days, those ill with virus will develop a rash of raised blisters. It can spread from person to person through close personal contact. 

Several U.S. states have started to vaccinate at-risk residents against the virus, which has infected at least 435 people around the world since the beginning of May. Spain and the United Kingdom have most of the infections. 

Historically, Lewis said, monkeypox "does not transmit so easily between persons," which is what's prompted officials to think it will not develop into a pandemic like COVID-19. The monkeypox virus, she explained, mutates "much more slowly." 

"We don't have a lot of information on what the genomes of the viruses being detected in this multi-country outbreak are really telling us yet, that is already discussion that is happening in circles of virologists working together and looking at these things." 

According to Reuters, the WHO is considering whether to designate monkeypox as a "potential public health emergency of international concern," which would accelerate research and funding to contain it. 

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