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Most of Africa’s monkeypox cases are from household transmission

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak.Associated Press

(Bloomberg) -- The rise of monkeypox cases in Africa, the only continent where the infectious disease is endemic, is coming from household transmission rather than primarily from men who have sex with men, according to the World Health Organization.

Only about 60% of the current cases in Africa are in men and the pattern of recent cases on the continent is different from elsewhere, Patrick Otim, WHO Africa’s health emergency officer, said in a briefing Thursday.

“It’s happened in households where people who are exposed to initial transmission from the wild, from the zoonotic, then pass it person-to-person,” he said.

The significant proportion of female cases is because in most of these countries it’s women who largely take care of the sick, he said.


Monkeypox was declared a public-health emergency of international concern by the head of the WHO almost two weeks ago, with the disease spreading to more than 25,000 people across 85 nations. In these countries most of the cases are in men.

Africa has been dealing with monkeypox since the 1970s with several waves previously contained. More than 80% of the current cases on the continent are in countries that have previously reported the illness, said Otim.

Monkeypox, which is related to the smallpox virus, typically causes flu-like symptoms, followed by a rash that often starts on the face and spreads down the belly. The illness can last for two weeks to a month, and can be deadly in some cases.

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