The World Health Organization has activated its highest alert level for the growing monkeypox outbreak, declaring the virus a public health emergency of international concern.
The rare designation means the WHO now views the outbreak as a significant enough threat to global health that a coordinated international response is needed to prevent the virus from spreading further and potentially escalating into a pandemic. Although the declaration does not impose requirements on national governments, it serves as an urgent call for action.
The WHO can only issue guidance and recommendations to its member states, not mandates. Member states are required to report events that pose a threat to global health. The U.N. agency declined last month to declare a global emergency in response to monkeypox. But infections have increased substantially over the past several weeks, pushing WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to issue the highest alert. More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported across 75 countries so far this year, and the number of confirmed infections rose 77% from late June through early July, according to WHO data. Men who have sex with men are currently at highest risk of infection.
Five deaths from the virus have been reported in Africa this year. No deaths have been reported outside Africa so far. Most people are recovering from monkeypox in two to four weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus causes a rash that can spread over the body. People who have caught the virus said the rash, which looks like pimples or blisters, can be very painful.