France has launched a ‘Monkeypox Info service’ to offer information and advice to people in the country following the World Health Organisation’s classification of the virus as a global public health emergency.
The service, which has been operational since July 8, is in even more demand now after the WHO’s announcement on Sunday (July 24).
The service is supported by health body Santé publique France and operated by the AIDS helpline service SIS Association. It is available to call on the numéro vert (free) 0 801 90 80 69, and open from 08:00 to 23:00 every day. The calls are free, anonymous, and confidential.
The phone line aims to complement prevention and protection messages, including offering advice on the symptoms, treatments, and vaccination protocol, as well as tips on who to contact if you fear you could be infected or at risk.
Arame Mbodje, director of the SIS Association, said: “Our association realised that it was important, given the experience that we have of HIV, that people have access to information surrounding monkeypox, especially the most at-risk population.”
Currently, the most at-risk population are men who have sex with men.
Ms Mbodje said: “We have already received a huge number of calls. Of these, 91% were from men, of which 92% said they had had relations with other men. The average age was 38. Most calls came from France, especially Paris. And 12% were positive for monkeypox.”
For the week of July 11-17, the line received 948 calls. The data shows that 94% of calls were asking about the vaccination.
“People are asking us which centres are open, and how to get an appointment,” said Ms Mbodje. “Many people are calling us because they are not managing to get a vaccination slot, as everything is booked up. We have also had some calls about the symptoms and the spread of the virus.”
Ms Mbodje said that people who are at risk are looking to be vaccinated, but she reiterated that there is no “huge emergency”.
She said: “People shouldn’t worry if they are vaccinated tomorrow or in a week. Right now there is a backlog, because vaccination is gradually being put in place, but soon everyone will have access. And while we wait, we are focusing on reducing risk, avoiding contacts, and protection.”
The WHO’s classification of the virus as a Global Health Emergency means that the organisation now sees the outbreak as a serious enough threat that a coordinated global response is needed.
Where is the monkeypox outbreak?
The WHO has said that Europe is being particularly affected, although data has confirmed more than 17,000 cases across 75 countries worldwide, and five deaths.
As of July 14, 7,128 cases had been confirmed in the EU. This was a “rise of almost 50% compared to the week before”, said European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides. The most recent WHO figures show there have been 11,865 cases in Europe.
Spain is most affected (2,477), followed by Germany (1,790). There have so far been 912 cases confirmed in France (data to July 12), of which 569 were in Ile-de-France.
The virus is usually contained to a few small areas in Africa.
What are the symptoms?
Monkeypox is considered to be a less dangerous, ‘cousin’ form of smallpox. People normally recover on their own within two or three weeks.
Symptoms include skin rashes in the genital area and/or mouth, as well as fever, sore throat, and pain in the lymph nodes.
The virus can be spread by skin contact with an ill person, or by breath droplets.
SPF said: “Sexual relations bring together the conditions for contamination, and having several partners increases the risk of being exposed to the virus.”
The majority of those affected are men who have sex with men, but the virus is not exclusive to that group. Some cases have been identified in children, as well as people with immune deficiencies.
Both the WHO and the UN have warned against stigmatising the virus as something that only happens to homosexual men or black people. The UN has said that some media portrayals of Africans and LGBTQ+ people “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbate stigma”.
What vaccination is available?
On May 20, the Haute Autorité de santé (HAS) in France put in place a “retrospective vaccination for post-exposure to people who have been infected, and considered at-risk of infection”.
On July 8, the HAS recommended that vaccination also be offered to “the most at-risk groups”. The government has now applied this advice.
The European Commission has yesterday (July 25) announced that it has bought 54,530 doses of monkeypox vaccine (a kind of smallpox vaccine) from the Danish lab Bavarian Nordic.
The number of doses purchased in European countries is now at 163,620.
What does the WHO alert mean?
The WHO classification is officially called “a public health emergency of international concern”, or PHEIC.
The organisation defines it as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said: “In short, 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 in the international health regulations.
“For all of these reasons I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a global health emergency of international concern.”
How can I avoid the spread, and what do I do if I think I am at risk?
The WHO monkeypox website page answers many key questions on the virus, including more on how it spreads and how to protect yourself.
It advises: “Reduce your risk of catching monkeypox by limiting close contact with people who have suspected or confirmed monkeypox, or with animals who could be infected.
“Clean and disinfect environments that could have been contaminated with the virus from someone who is infectious regularly.
“Keep yourself informed about monkeypox in your area and have open conversations with those you come into close contact (especially sexual contact) with about any symptoms you or they may have.”
It adds: “If you have had close contact with someone who has monkeypox or an environment that may have been contaminated with the virus, monitor yourself closely for signs and symptoms for 21 days after the time you were last exposed.
“Limit close contact with other people as much as you can, and when it is unavoidable let your contact know that you have been exposed to monkeypox.
“If you think you have symptoms of monkeypox, contact your healthcare provider for advice, testing and medical care. Until you receive your test result, isolate yourself from others if possible. Clean your hands regularly.
“If you test positive for monkeypox, your healthcare provider will advise you on whether you should isolate at home or in a health facility, and what care you need.”