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Israel confirms first monkeypox case, but local health officials believe widespread outbreak is unlikely

Second suspected case ruled out

Head of the Institute of Microbiology of the German Armed Forces Roman Woelfel works in his laboratory in Munich, May 20, 2022, after Germany detected its first case of monkeypox. (Photo: Reuters/Christine Uyanik)

Israel has confirmed its first case of monkeypox joining several other countries already dealing with several cases as speculation rises as to whether the world is on the cusp of the next global pandemic after COVID-19.

Last Friday, a male in his 30s who had recently visited Western Europe returned to Israel and was hospitalized with monkeypox. He is reportedly in good condition, but remains in quarantine.

Monkeypox, as the name indicates, is a disease that originates in wild animals. The virus is rarely fatal and most infected individuals usually recover within a few weeks. The virus is spread through close contact with infected animals or people. It typically enters the human body through broken skin, the nose, eyes or the mouth.

So far, close to 100 monkeypox cases have been registered in 12 countries worldwide, including the U.S., Canada, Australia and nine European countries. An additional 50 suspected cases of the virus are reportedly being examined in unnamed countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“WHO is working with the affected countries and others to expand disease surveillance to find and support people who may be affected, and to provide guidance on how to manage the disease,” stated WHO on Friday.

Based on empirical studies performed in Africa, the smallpox vaccine is believed to be 85% effective in preventing the monkeypox virus, according to WHO.

Prof. Salman Zarka, Israel’s coronavirus commissioner and head of the Ziv Medical Center in the northern Israeli city Safed, downplayed the risks that the virus would spread on a massive scale.

"We are talking about a virus that has light symptoms, known medications and vaccinations, and can only be transmitted in very close contact," Zarka told the Israeli news outlet KAN Reshet Bet.

Israeli officials are nevertheless not taking any chances. Senior health officials urgently convened during the weekend to discuss potential health challenges stemming from the monkeypox virus. While health officials expect an increase in the number of cases, they do not believe there will be a widespread outbreak like the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is not an epidemic, but we need to raise public awareness,” said Dr. Boaz Raz, the head of the Israel Center for Disease Control (ICDC).

Israel’s Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash nevertheless warned that there might be a need to vaccinate vulnerable individuals.

“These kinds of diseases breakout every now and then. We are considering and intending to vaccinate mostly at-risk populations,” stated Ash.

However, the Health Ministry chief did not believe there would be any need for a mass vaccination program as it enforced for COVID. In fact, Galia Rahav, of Sheba Medical Center, dismissed fears that the world is potentially facing a new pandemic.

“This is a completely different infection than the coronavirus, a lot less infectious,” Rahav told Israel's Channel 13.

Dr. Leon Poles, a member of Israel's epidemic management team, said while there is low risk of a monkeypox epidemic or mass infection, there is a potential for transmission among youth who have not been vaccinated against smallpox. 

A second suspected case of the virus was being investigated on Sunday, but the Health Ministry said the 27-year-old male – who remains in mild condition – did not have monkeypox.

The Monkeypox virus is not a new disease. It was first discovered in 1958 among monkeys in a laboratory in Denmark. The first known human case with monkeypox was a child in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970. It is classified as endemic in parts of Western Africa and the Congo basin, but its spread is so far very limited throughout the rest of the world.

Symptoms are usually smallpox-like skin lesions, fever, fatigue, possible shortness of breath and headache. The illness usually lasts anywhere from two to four weeks.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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