The World Health Organization confirmed Wednesday that it is investigating whether monkeypox could be sexually transmitted after it was detected in patients’ semen.
The UN health agency confirmed that it was taking seriously the unexpected DNA findings made by scientists in both Italy and Germany.
“This may have been something that we were unaware of in this disease before,” Catherine Smallwood, monkeypox incident manager at WHO/Europe, said of the possibility it is sexually transmitted.
“We really need to focus on the most frequent mode of transmission and we clearly see that to be associated with skin-to-skin contact,” she told a press briefing.
The agency has for weeks warned that the current, alarming spread of the virus to dozens of new countries appeared to have been tied to men who have had sex with other men.
That was the case in 99 percent of the 152 monkeypox patients in England, according to Britain’s Health Security Agency. The UK has the most confirmed cases, with at least 470.
However, the detection of viral DNA in the semen of a handful of monkeypox patients in Italy and Germany has drastically increased the possibility that it is actually sexually transmitted, experts have said of the latest findings.
They included a lab-tested sample that suggested the virus found in the semen of a single patient was capable of infecting others and replicating.
As a precaution, the WHO has advised monkeypox patients to use condoms for 12 weeks after their recovery.
The agency is also reaching out to Pride event organizers and dating apps to “provide clear information to raise awareness,” the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said Wednesday.
Kluge said that while “the majority” of cases “have been among men who have sex with men” — including many with “multiple and sometimes anonymous sexual partners” — “we must remember that the monkeypox virus is not in itself attached to any specific group.”
He pointed to the lessons of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, saying that “stigmatizing certain populations undermines the public health response.”
Still, he warned that the fast-approaching “summer tourism, various Pride events, music festivals and other mass gatherings” were “powerful opportunities to engage with young, sexually active and highly mobile people.
“Monkeypox is not a reason to cancel events, but an opportunity to leverage them to drive our engagement,” he said.
Organizers of Pride events in places including London, Berlin, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Malta and Stockholm have said they will go ahead as planned.
The WHO on Tuesday said it was planning to rename the virus and disease, while also planning a special meeting to determine if it should be treated as a highest-level “public health emergency of international concern.”
With Post wires