Monkeypox: WHO to look into reports of virus in semen

New Delhi, June 15 (IANS) The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday said it is exploring whether monkeypox can be sexually transmitted after reports showed that the virus has been found in the semen of some patients, media reports said.

The virus itself is not a sexually transmitted infection, which are generally spread through semen and vaginal fluids. And the WHO had earlier stated that the virus typically spreads through close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.

However, it had warned asymptomatic contacts of the confirmed patient to “not donate blood, cells, tissue, organs, breast milk, or semen while they are under symptom surveillance”.

The global health body has also maintained that, while the current outbreak seems to more common among men who had sex with other men, “anyone can be infected with monkeypox if they have close physical contact with someone else who is infected”.

A report published in the journal Eurosurveillance earlier this month presented four cases of monkeypox in Italy where the presence of the virus was detected in seminal fluid.

A similar study in Germany also detected the viral DNA in the semen of monkeypox patients, suggesting that the virus found in the semen of a single patient was capable of infecting another person and replicating.

At a press briefing, Catherine Smallwood, monkeypox incident manager at WHO/Europe, said the reports cannot confirm whether the monkeypox virus can be sexually transmitted.

Besides monkeypox, there are other disease like Zika that has been detected in semen but could not be established as a sexually transmitted disease.

According to the global health body, monkeypox has so far affected 2,821 people in both endemic and non-endemic countries.

As of June 8, the WHO reported 1,285 monkeypox cases in 28 ‘non-endemic’ countries, particularly in Europe, North America, and Australia.

About eight African countries, including Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo and Liberia, where monkeypox is endemic, have reported 1,536 suspected cases and 59 confirmed cases.

While no deaths have been reported to date from the non-endemic countries, the endemic African countries have recorded 72 deaths from monkeypox from January till June 8.

Meanwhile, the WHO has also convened a meeting on June 23 to assess whether the current monkeypox outbreak outside of the traditional endemic areas in Africa has already turned into a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). It is also considering changing the name of the monkeypox virus to tackle the stigma and racism associated with it.