Monkeypox cases are increasing worldwide. So far there have been six confirmed cases in Germany. The Ministry of Health expects an increase in the coming weeks. Experts explain how dangerous the situation is.
As soon as Corona flattens out, a new virus spreads: monkeypox. Usually, they are very rare outside of West and Central Africa, where the pathogen originated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 100 cases have now been registered outside of Africa, such as in the USA, Canada, Portugal, Spain and Italy. In Great Britain, where the first cases became known earlier this month, the number of cases has already risen to 20.
Germany was not spared either: after a case in Munich, three new cases were registered in Berlin over the weekend. In the meantime, two other federal states, Saxony-Anhalt and Baden-Württemberg, have reported evidence of the infection. Samples from numerous other people are currently being analyzed, and authorities are also looking for contact persons who have been proven to be infected. The Federal Ministry of Health therefore expects a further increase in the number of monkeypox detections. “Due to the many contacts of those currently infected, further diseases are to be expected in Europe and also in Germany,” says a report for the health committee of the Bundestag.
Is the situation now serious in view of the worldwide and daily increasing cases? Are we threatened with a new pandemic? Virologists give the all-clear in this regard. “The chance of contracting monkeypox is smaller than being struck by lightning,” says virologist Klaus Stöhr to “Bild”. While it is important to keep an eye on the virus and inform the health service, “but thinking about a pandemic or about vaccines or how to protect yourself is not proportionate to the risk”.
The Berlin epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs sees it similarly. “Monkeypox can only be transmitted sexually or through close contact with bodily secretions,” he told ntv. Therefore, the speed of propagation is low. Also, there is usually no deadly danger from monkeypox. “The lethality of this disease is very low,” Ulrichs continues. This applies above all to the West African variant.
Only in the case of the Central African variant of monkeypox could five to ten percent of cases be fatal. According to a press release from the Federal Ministry of Health, the cases found in Europe so far are the West African monkeypox variant. However, further genome analyzes are still in progress.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) also currently assesses the risk to the population as low because, as far as is known, those affected were not seriously ill. Further cases are to be expected in Germany, but since close contact is required for the transmission of the virus, it can be assumed that the outbreak will remain limited. According to current knowledge, a risk to the health of the general population in Germany is therefore considered to be low.
According to information from the health authorities, monkeypox usually causes only mild symptoms such as
As the Frankfurt virologist Sandra Ciesek announced, severe courses can also occur – mainly because of the rash that can appear on the face, palms, mouth, genitals and eyes. “The open skin lesions can become inflamed and superinfected with bacteria. Infection of the eyes with loss of vision is also possible,” she writes on Twitter.
In rare cases, pneumonia can also occur. People with a limited immune system or people who live under poor hygienic conditions are particularly at risk. In Africa, one to ten percent of the courses are fatal. However, this number cannot be transferred to our living conditions, explains the virologist. Overall, experts rate the monkeypox outbreak calmly.
However, the UN organization Unaids has criticized some reports and comments on monkeypox cases as homophobic and racist. The organization warns that stigmatizing the virus infection could “quickly undermine the fight against the epidemic”. While a large proportion of monkeypox cases confirmed to date affect gays, bisexuals, or other men who have sex with men, the disease can be transmitted through close contact with an infected person and “thus affects anyone.”
The UN agency fears that stigma and allegations can quickly affect science- and evidence-based efforts to fight the disease. Racist or homophobic attacks “create a cycle of fear”. This causes people to avoid health centers, which makes it harder to limit the spread, warns Unaids.