World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that the recent decline in monkeypox cases that has been observed in North America and Europe is evidence that the current outbreak can be stopped or eliminated outright.
Tedros made note of how monkeypox has quickly grown in prominence from being a little-known virus that was often only discussed within the context of countries where it is endemic.
With over 50,000 cases and 16 deaths due to monkeypox confirmed this year, Tedros said the number of cases has already exceeded the number of reported infections in the years since monkeypox was first identified in 1958.
“It’s encouraging to see that in some countries in Europe and North America we now see a sustained decline in cases, demonstrating the effectiveness of public health interventions and community engagement to track infections and prevent transmission,” said Tedros.
According to information from the European Union, reported monkeypox cases have seen a continued decline since peaking in mid-July. The current number of reported cases in EU countries now reflects the levels that were observed in the early parts of the outbreak.
Throughout the monkeypox outbreak, the U.S. has tended to follow the epidemiological trends observed in Europe. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated a slight decline in reported cases in recent weeks. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last week that she was “cautiously optimistic,” though the rate of decrease is uneven across the country.
“These signs confirm what we have said consistently since the beginning: that with the right measures, this is an outbreak that can be stopped,” Tedros said. “And in regions that do not have animal-to-human transmission, this is a virus that can be eliminated.”
Health officials in the U.S. have attributed this recent decline to a combination of early vaccination efforts as well as a change in behavior among men who have sex with men (MSM), the demographic most affected by the current outbreak. A CDC survey found that about half of men who have sex with men have reduced their number of sexual encounters and partners due to the outbreak.
Tedros commented on Friday that the MSM community is “highly resilient,” as evidenced by its decades-long collaboration with the WHO to fight the spread of HIV.
“These communities are highly resilient, and are often health literate, well-organized and proactive in managing sexual health,” he said. “We learn from working with you.”