The World Health Organization has stressed that outbreaks of monkeypox are not related to monkeys, following a series of reported attacks on the primates in Brazil.
“What people need to know is that the transmission we’re seeing is occurring between humans,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
He said primates could not be blamed for the rise in cases of monkeypox in Brazil after reports in several cities of physical attacks and poisoning of monkeys.
In a nature reserve in Rio Preto, São Paulo state, 10 monkeys appeared to have been intentionally poisoned or injured in less than a week, according to news site G1. Rescuers and activists suspect the monkeys were poisoned and attacked after three cases of smallpox were confirmed in the area.
Globally, more than 28,100 cases and 12 deaths have been reported as monkeypox infections have surged since May outside West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.
So far, Brazil has recorded more than 1,700 cases and one death, according to WHO data.
But Harris stressed that, despite their name, monkeys are not the main transmitters of the disease and have nothing to do with the outbreak. Monkeypox got its name because the virus was first identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark, but the disease is found in a variety of animals, most commonly in rodents.
Although the virus could jump from animals to humans, the recent global explosion of cases was due to close contact transmission between humans, Harris said. “The concern should be where [is circulating] in the human population and what humans can do to protect themselves from getting it and passing it on,” he said. People “certainly shouldn’t attack any animal.”
Harris said the best way to slow the virus was “if people recognize they have symptoms and seek help and medical care and take precautions to prevent transmission.” This requires raising awareness of those most at risk.
Almost all cases so far have been among men who have sex with men, and the WHO has warned against stigmatizing those infected.
“Any stigmatization of anyone infected will increase transmission, because if people are afraid to identify themselves as infected, they won’t get care and won’t take precautions,” Harris said. “So don’t stigmatize any animal or any human, because if you do, we’re going to have a much bigger outbreak.”
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