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Monkeypox is a dangerous disease threat — but has one key difference from Covid, epidemic coalition says

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Health officer uses a thermal head to detect a monkeypox virus on arriving passengers at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang near Jakarta, Indonesia on May 15, 2019.

Jepayona Delita | Future Publishing | Getty Images

The sudden emergence of monkeypox in several countries around the world represents a concerning outbreak, the head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations told CNBC on Thursday, but the virus does not represent the same kind of global threat as Covid-19.

His comments come as international health authorities investigate the atypical spread of monkeypox, a rare viral disease typically confined to remote parts of Central and West Africa.

“This is the first time that we have gathered again in Davos since the 2020 meeting and we find ourselves facing another dangerous disease threat,” CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“We should understand what that signifies, which is the world is beginning to move around again and infectious disease is beginning to move around with us,” Hatchett said.

“This is a concerning epidemic. Monkeypox is a very different disease than Covid,” he continued. “It does not spread through respiratory transmission in the same way, so it does not present the kind of global threat that many of us immediately recognized that Covid presented. But it does exemplify the risk that infectious diseases present in the modern world.”

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus, part of the same family as smallpox, though typically less severe. It was first detected in captive monkeys in 1958 and the first human case was recorded in 1970.

Initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headaches, muscle ache, swelling and back pain. Patients typically develop a rash one to three days after the appearance of fever, often beginning on the face and spreading to other parts of the body, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Monkeypox cases can occasionally be more severe, with some deaths having been reported in West Africa. However, health authorities stress that we are not on the brink of a serious outbreak and the risks to the general public remain very low.

The World Health Organization has said the virus can be contained with the right response in countries outside of Africa where it is not usually detected.

The U.S., Australia and Germany have confirmed their first cases of monkeypox in recent days.

As of Wednesday, a total of 118 monkeypox cases had been reported across 12 countries in the European Union and the European Economic Area, according to the European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control.

In the U.K., seven additional cases of monkeypox were detected in England on Wednesday, with one case identified in Scotland. It means the total number of identified cases in the U.K. now stands at 78.

In comparison, the U.N. described the coronavirus pandemic as the biggest international challenge since World War II. To date, more than 527 million cases have been reported globally, with over 6.28 million deaths.

‘We have the tools that we need’

When asked about CEPI’s joint mission to have vaccines ready to use within 100 days of an epidemic or pandemic threat being identified, Hatchett said: “When we talk about 100 days, it is 100 days from the decision to initiate vaccine development to vaccines being available for use.”

“That means that we have to make significant investments in preparedness before the new disease emerges if we are going to be able to execute that fast.”

“I think monkeypox is a perfect illustration of the value of that strategy because we actually have vaccines against smallpox that were developed against a disease that doesn’t even exist that we know works against monkeypox,” Hatchett said.

“And we have anti-virals that were developed to protect against smallpox that will work against monkeypox. So, we have the tools that we need just as the epidemic has exploded,” he added.

— CNBC’s Karen Gilchrist contributed to this report.

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