Currently, monkeypox mostly impacts men who have sex with men, but health officials warn it is already spreading beyond that community.
WHO Emergency Declaration
Public health officials are working to combat misinformation and complacency regarding the recent monkeypox outbreak following the decision by the World Health Organization to officially declare the disease a global emergency.
The announcement was made by the WHO’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who overruled a panel of advisors that have not yet agreed that monkeypox is an international emergency. The director told reporters that one of his reasons for sidestepping the panel was his desire to try and curb the disease before it gets worse.
“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria,” he said.
The emergency declaration is notable because it marks the highest alert level the WHO can issue and means the organization views the outbreak as a significant enough threat to public health to warrant a coordinated global response.
Among other measures, the designation can lead member countries to invest in controlling the disease, marshal more funding to fight outbreaks, and put pressure on governments to share vaccines, treatments, and other resources.
The specific designation is also significant because it is actually quite rare: according to reports, the WHO currently only uses it for COVID-19 and polio.
The decision to extend the emergency label to monkeypox underscores just how serious the situation is.
While monkeypox has existed for decades, it is endemic to western and central Africa and has largely been contained to the region. But over the last two months, it has spread around the world at an incredibly alarming rate.
According to WHO data, over 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 70 countries this year, with the number of confirmed infections skyrocketing 77% from late June through early July.
Currently, more than 80% of cases confirmed in 2022 are in Europe, but over the last few weeks, infections have surged drastically in the U.S. In its most recent count, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,891 cases of monkeypox in America, meaning that new infections are 10 times higher than they were just a month ago.
In the U.S., like the rest of the world, the outbreak has been largely concentrated among men who have sex with men. The WHO reports that this demographic composes 98% of all cases worldwide.
Officials Debunk False Transmission Claims
Because of the concentration of cases in the LGBTQ+ community, there has been a lot of harmful, often homophobic misinformation swirling around, including false claims that monkeypox can only be transmitted during sex.
Monkeypox belongs to the same family as smallpox, and the CDC describes it as having symptoms that are similar but less severe than that disease, including flu-like symptoms as well as a rash of pox that spreads all over the body.
Also like smallpox, monkeypox is spread by both direct and indirect contact with the rash, scabs, and fluids of an infected person. This means that, in addition to spreading from skin-to-skin physical contact with someone who has a rash, a person could also get infected from sharing clothes, blankets, or linens that have been exposed, as well as through respiratory droplets.
While the CDC says it is investigating “if virus could be present in semen, vaginal fluids, or other body fluids,” it is certain that monkeypox can be spread in non-sexual ways.
Even just in the U.S., the CDC has recently reported a small handful of directions among cisgender women. On Friday, the agency also announced that two children had contracted it separately, marking the first documented cases among kids in this outbreak.
In response, top public health officials have been warned false claims about transmission are incredibly dangerous because they not only stigmatize the LGBTQ+ community, but also create the misconception that others are not at risk.
“At the moment, cases continue to be reported among men who have sex with men for the most part, but we should not expect that to remain as such,” Dr. Catherine Smallwood, the senior emergency officer at the WHO, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.”
Smallwood said it is not unusual for the outbreak of a virus to start in one group or setting before spreading more broadly. She also added that while there have only been five reported deaths and limited hospitalizations so far, more severe cases could emerge if monkeypox spreads to vulnerable groups like young children, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised.
Other experts have also said that the current state of affairs presents a crucial turning point for combatting a broader outbreak — especially in the U.S.
Unlike with COVID, the CDC had tests available before this outbreak began, and because monkeypox is similar to smallpox, there are existing smallpox treatments and vaccines are effective against both.
Also, because monkeypox has a long incubation period, the development of a contact-tracing program could seriously help containment.
Some have complained that the federal government has not been moving fast enough on testing, and demand has exceeded supply on vaccines despite the U.S. having millions of doses of stockpiled.
WHO officials say that the emergency declaration will enhance these efforts both in the U.S. and globally. The outbreak will certainly prove to be a major test of whether the global public health system can actually internalize the lessons it learned during the COVID pandemic, but some are optimistic.
“I absolutely think that it can be contained,” Anne Rimoin, a UCLA epidemiologist who studies monkeypox, told NPR. “But whether it will be depends upon the resources dedicated to doing this and the speed with which we can act. It really will require a major concerted effort locally, nationally and globally.”
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”