More than 1,000 cases of monkey pox in Germany

A photo provided by the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp shows the skin symptoms of patients with monkey pox. Photo: – / Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp / dpa

More than 1,000 cases of monkey pox have now been registered in Germany. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) announced on Friday in an internet review 1,054 cases reported from all federal states.

So far, only male cases have been referred to the RKI, but a few cases have been referred without gender, the spokeswoman said on request. The institute’s risk assessment reads: “According to current knowledge, the RKI assesses the health risk of the general population in Germany as low.” Experts closely monitor the situation and classify a new dimension of case numbers.

“It is not worrying that this number has been reached,” said Timo Ulrichs, a global health expert at the Acre University of the Humanities in Berlin. “It’s not nice and should be much better controlled from the start,” but the situation is in no way comparable to the corona pandemic. The first cases of monkey pox in Germany came to light about six weeks ago.

Communicated by physical contact

According to the current state of knowledge, a truly rare viral disease, to which several thousand cases have been detected all over the world, is transmitted mainly through close physical contact from person to person. According to WHO, the majority of those affected are men who have sex with men. In general, however, anyone can become infected through close physical contact. Ulrichs stressed that stigmatization should be decisively counteracted.

Since transmission is mostly sexual, the containment measures are clear: “Good communication, safer sex, and consistent tracking of rather short chains of infection,” says Ulrichs. By this, and possibly by vaccination, the spread can be well contained, “so that in the near future this number will only increase slightly and monkey pox will be more marginalized in the years to come.”

The RKI emphasizes that just wearing condoms does not protect against infection. Infected individuals should avoid all kinds of close contact, including protected sexual contact, with other people until the rash has cleared and the last scab comes off.

Distribution unexpected

Virologist Norbert Nowotny of the University of Vienna said regarding the worldwide process of infection: This high number of infections was not expected in around 50 different countries outside of Africa’s endemic areas. He also stressed the need to intensify education and information, and in particular to reach the most affected population groups.

Monkey pox is considered a less severe disease compared to smallpox, which has been eradicated since 1980. Experts have warned of the spread of the virus, for example at upcoming festivals and events. Symptoms (including fever and rash) are usually self-limiting but can lead to medical complications in some people and, very rarely, death.

The Standing Committee on Immunization (Stiko) recommends vaccinating certain risk groups and people who have been in close contact with infected people.

Nowotny explained that because the virus that causes the disease belongs to a strain that causes a rather mild clinical course, a severe course of the disease can rarely be expected – except in immunocompromised people for whom a specific antiviral drug is available. Nevertheless, the goal must be “to stop the epidemic in the next few months,” according to the expert.

The main problem is the relatively long incubation period of up to three weeks. Therefore, infected persons would have to reliably inform the authorities about persons with very close contact during this time. They would then have to order the necessary quarantine measures and, under certain circumstances, initiate smallpox vaccination. However, Nowotny’s prognosis was also cautiously optimistic: if the measures were implemented quickly, it would probably be possible in the next few months to reduce and ultimately stop the epidemic.

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