The cases of monkeypox have been reported in at least nine European countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom — as well as the United States (US), Canada and Australia.
The viral infection, which causes distinctive pustules but is rarely fatal, has previously been seen in central and west Africa.
Calling the spread “atypical”, Kluge said, “All but one of the recent cases has no relevant travel history to areas where monkeypox is endemic.”
The European health official warned that transmission of mokeypox could be boosted by the fact that “the cases currently being detected are among those engaging in sexual activity”, and many do not recognise the symptoms.
Most initial cases of the viral infection have been among men who have sex with men and sought treatment at sexual health clinics, Kluge said. “This suggests that transmission may have been ongoing for some time,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the WHO has said it is investigating the fact that many reported cases of monkeypox were people identifying as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.
First identified in monkeys, the disease typically spreads through close contact and has rarely spread outside Africa. Therefore, this recent outbreak has triggered concern.
Talking about the disease, the UK Health Security Agency’s chief medical adviser, Susan Hopkins, also said she expected “this increase to continue in the coming days and for more cases to be identified in the wider community”.