WHO investigates reports of monkeypox virus in semen

More than 1,300 cases of the disease have been reported in about 30 countries

Lamiat Sabin
Wednesday 15 June 2022 18:57 BST
A monkeypox vaccination clinic in Montreal, Canada
A monkeypox vaccination clinic in Montreal, Canada (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) is investigating reports that the monkeypox virus could be present in the semen of patients. This would help ascertain whether or not the disease is sexually-transmitted, an official of the organisation said.

Many cases in Europe’s monkeypox outbreak are among sexual partners, and it has been believed that the virus transmits via skin-to-skin contact.

But, in recent days, scientists have said that they have detected viral DNA in the semen of a handful of monkeypox patients in Italy and Germany.

A lab-tested sample suggested the virus found in the semen of a single patient could be capable of infecting another person and replicating.

Catherine Smallwood, monkeypox incident manager at WHO/Europe, said it was not known whether recent reports meant the monkeypox virus could be sexually transmitted.

“This may have been something that we were unaware of in this disease before,” she told a press briefing.

“We really need to focus on the most frequent mode of transmission and we clearly see that to be associated with skin-to-skin contact.”

Since early May, more than 1,300 cases of the viral disease – which is endemic to Africa – have been reported in about 30 countries.

Most cases have been reported among men who have sex with men, and the majority of the cases in Europe have been found not to be related to travel to countries in Africa.

The WHO has recommended that some people – close contacts of infected people, such as healthcare workers – get vaccinated.

Vaccines for smallpox, a related disease, are thought to be about 85 per cent effective against monkeypox.

The WHO warned against a repeat of the Covid pandemic, when wealthier countries rushed to hoard vaccines. It said that it is already seeing rich countries seeking to stockpile vaccines without a plan to help affected nations in Africa.

Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said: “Once again, a ‘me first’ approach could lead to damaging consequences down the road.

“I beseech governments to tackle monkeypox without repeating the mistakes of the pandemic – and keeping equity at the heart of all we do.”

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