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Monkeypox outbreaks in Africa, unlike other parts of the world, are not concentrated in gay men, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Africa CDC said on Thursday.
Outbreaks of the viral disease have been reported from 78 countries, mostly in Europe, and 98% of cases outside of African countries where it is endemic have been reported in men who have sex with men, according to the WHO.
But in Africa, where repeated outbreaks have been documented since the 1970s, the pattern of transmission is different, the experts said.
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“Right now, 60% of the cases that we have — the 350 — 60% are men, 40% are women,” said epidemiologist Dr. Otim Patrick Ramadan, answering questions about monkeypox at a media conference organized by the WHO Regional Office in Africa, and who referred to the number of current cases on the continent.
He said more than 80% of cases in Africa have occurred in countries where transmission had previously occurred, and people were typically first exposed to the virus through contact with animals that carried it before they passed it on to household members.
He added that women tend to take care of sick people at home, which is one of the factors contributing to its spread among women.
dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a separate media briefing there was no evidence that transmission among gay men was a specific factor in African outbreaks.
“We’ve been collecting data on monkeypox since 1970, and this particular indicator, men having sex with men, has never been an important issue here in Africa,” he said.
More than 18,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported worldwide, which has been declared a global public health emergency by the WHO.
Monkeypox spreads through close contact and tends to cause flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions.
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Public health officials have emphasized that while outbreaks in many countries are concentrated in men who have sex with men, anyone can contract the virus through prolonged close contact or through particles on items such as bedding or towels.