More than 1,600 cases of monkeypox have diagnosed in 39 countries amid the ongoing outbreak. Image by Samuel F. Johanns
June 16 (UPI) -- Health officials in San Diego have identified two probable cases of monkeypox as the World Health Organization warns that the international outbreak "poses a real risk" with infections surpassing 1,600 cases worldwide.
The two unrelated cases in San Diego were reported Wednesday by the county's health and human services agency, which said samples from the patients will be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.
If confirmed, the cases would be the first diagnosed in San Diego County, the officials said.
The patients, who have recently traveled internationally, exhibit symptoms of the rare disease but are "doing well and are not hospitalized," they said.
"The arrival of these probable cases in our region is not a surprise but rather has been expected," Nathan Fletcher, chair of the SanDiego County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. "Our public health leaders are confident there is very little risk of exposure to the majority of county residents."
The announcement comes amid a growing outbreak of the disease that was first diagnosed this year in the United States in a patient in Massachusetts on May 18.
Since then, the CDC has tallied 84 cases nationwide in 18 states as well as the District of Columbia, according to its website.
On Tuesday, the CDC released new guidance on identifying monkeypox infections amid concerns that some cases are not being recognized and tested though evidence shows there is person-to-person transmission in multiple states.
The first case amid the current outbreak was identified in Britain early last month, with London on Wednesday reporting an additional 54 cases in the kingdom for a total of 524, with most of the patients being described as men who have sex with other men.
Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a recorded statement Wednesday that Europe remains the epicenter of "this escalating outbreak" with 25 countries reporting more than 1,500 cases, or 85% of the global total.
"The magnitude of this outbreak poses a real risk; the longer the virus circulates, the more it will extend its reach and the strong the disease's foothold will get in non-endemic countries," he said.
Kluge called on governments and stakeholders to act in unison with urgency to control the outbreak, listing a three-step plan of strong surveillance, community engagement and regional collaboration.
WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a day prior that the total outbreak consists of more than 1,600 confirmed cases from 39 counties, 32 of which are considered "newly affected."
Though there have been at least 72 deaths reported in affected countries no death linked to the virus has been reported in a newly affected country though WHO is seeking to verify reports from Brazil of a monkeypox-related death.
"The global outbreak of monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning," Tedros said.
The WHO head said in response he has called for the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee to convene June 23 to decide if the outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern, the highest level of global alert.
COVID-19 and polio are the only two diseases that currently have this status.
Ibrahima Soce Fall, WHO deputy director for Emergency Response, said the risk of monkeypox spread in Europe is considered "High" and for the reset of the world it is considered "moderate."
WHO guidelines published Tuesday states that while vaccines for the eradicated smallpox virus are available and maybe useful to combat monkeypox, the supply is limited and access strategies are being discussed.
"At this time, the World Health Organization does not recommend mass vaccination," the guidelines state. "Decisions about the use of smallpox or monkeypox vaccines should be based on a full assessment of the risks and benefits in each case."