LONDON — British health authorities said on Friday that the monkeypox outbreak across the country could be peaking and the rate of growth of the outbreak has slowed.
The UK’s Health Security Agency said in a statement that there were “early signs that the outbreak is plateauing”, with 2,859 cases detected since May. No deaths have been reported. Last month, authorities estimated that the outbreak was doubling in size about every two weeks, but the number of new infections has fallen in recent weeks.
“While the most recent data suggests that the growth of the epidemic has slowed, we cannot be complacent,” said Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at the Health Security Agency. She said anyone who thinks they have monkeypox should skip meeting friends, social gatherings and avoid sexual contact.
The Health Security Agency said its most recent analysis of the outbreak “shows that monkeypox continues to be transmitted primarily through the interconnected sexual networks of gay, bisexual or men who have sex with other men”. More than 70% of UK cases are in London.
British officials noted a small number of infections in women, but said there was insufficient evidence to suggest a sustained spread of monkeypox beyond gay and bisexual men; 99% of all cases in the UK are in men.
Scientists who analyzed monkeypox viruses in the UK noted a number of mutations from viruses circulating in Africa, but said there was no evidence that these genetic changes made monkeypox more transmissible.
Experts suspect monkeypox outbreaks in North America and Europe may have originated in Africa long before the disease began to spread sexually at two raves in Spain and Belgium.
The World Health Organization said this week that 92% of monkeypox cases beyond Africa were likely infected through sex and its director-general recently called on vulnerable gay and bisexual men to consider downsizing their partners sexual “at the moment”.
To date, more than 26,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in nearly 90 countries, with a 19% increase in the past week.
In June, British authorities expanded their vaccination strategy, offering vaccines not only to health workers treating monkeypox patients and high-risk contacts of patients, but to some gay or bisexual men and those at high risk of catch the virus, including those who have multiple sex partners or participate in group sex.
The UK last month downgraded its assessment of the monkeypox outbreak and dropped a recommendation for contacts of monkeypox cases to isolate for three weeks unless they show symptoms. The change was prompted by data showing that only a small number of contacts eventually become ill with monkeypox and a lack of evidence that the disease spreads without close, intimate or sexual contact.
On Thursday, the United States declared its monkeypox outbreak a national emergency, the WHO last month designating it a global emergency.
Monkeypox is spread when people have close physical contact with an infected person’s lesions, clothing, or bedding. Most people recover without needing treatment, but the lesions can be extremely painful and more severe cases can lead to complications including encephalitis and death.
Follow all of AP’s monkeypox coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/monkeypox