Harare — The World Health Organization said that it documented sexual transmission of mpox ( previously monkeypox ) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the first time during the nation's largest epidemic, a troubling finding that African scientists say might make it more difficult to stop the illness.
The UN health agency said that a Belgian citizen visited the Congo in March and soon after, tested positive for mpox. The man "identified himself as a man who has sexual relations with other men" and admitted to frequenting a number of homosexual and bisexual men's underground clubs, according to the WHO. Five of his sexual partners subsequently tested positive for mpox.
For many years, mpox was endemic in several regions of central and west Africa, where it mostly afflicted rodents that carried the virus and sometimes produced epidemics in people. More than a hundred nations in Europe saw outbreaks among homosexual and bisexual males that were mostly caused by sex last year. The outbreak, which resulted in over 91,000 infections to date, was deemed a worldwide emergency by the WHO.
The World Health Organization observed that there are several exclusive clubs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where men engage in sexual activities with other males, some of whom even go to neighboring countries in Africa and Europe. The organization noted that the mpox epidemic was uncommon and that it brought attention to the possibility that the illness may spread rapidly across sexual networks.
The WHO further said that this year's mpox epidemic in Congo, which has killed over 580 people and infected over 12,500, was the first time the illness was discovered in the war-torn region of South Kivu and the nation's capital, Kinshasa. According to the WHO, the numbers are almost twice as high as the mpox toll in 2020, making it the largest epidemic in Congo.
Fever, chills, rash, and lesions on the face or genitalia are among symptoms of the mpox virus. Most people don't need to stay in the hospital after recovering for a few weeks.
There "appears to be significant" chance that mpox will spread to other African nations and throughout the world, and there may be "potentially more severe consequences" than there were for the global pandemic last year, according to the WHO.