LONDON— The World Health Organization’s Europe chief warned Friday that monkeypox cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks and urged countries to do more to ensure the previously rare disease does not become entrenched on the continent.

And African health authorities said they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak as an emergency, calling on rich countries to share limited supplies of vaccines to avoid equity problems seen during the Covid-19 pandemic.

WHO Europe chief Dr. Hans Kluge said in a statement that increased efforts were needed despite the U.N. health agency’s decision last week that the escalating outbreak did not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency.

“Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” Kluge said.

51 countries report monkeypox outbreak

To date, more than 5,000 monkeypox cases have been reported from 51 countries worldwide that don’t normally report the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kluge said the number of infections in Europe represents about 90 percent of the global total, with 31 countries in the WHO’s European region having identified cases.

Kluge said data reported to the WHO show that 99 percent of cases have been in men — the majority in men that have sex with men. But he said there were now “small numbers” of cases among household contacts, including children. Most people reported symptoms including a rash, fever, fatigue, muscle pain, vomiting and chills.

Scientists warn anyone who is in close physical contact with someone who has monkeypox or their clothing or bedsheets is at risk of infection. Vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women are thought more likely to suffer severe disease.

About 10 percent of patients were hospitalized for treatment or to be isolated, and one person was admitted to an intensive care unit. No deaths have been reported.

Kluge said the problem of stigmatization in some countries might make some people wary of seeking health care and said the WHO was working with partners including organizers of gay pride events.

Spreading in the gay community

In the U.K., which has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa, officials have noted the disease is spreading in “defined sexual networks of gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men.” British health authorities said there were no signs suggesting sustained transmission beyond those populations.

A leading WHO adviser said in May that the spike in cases in Europe was likely tied to sexual activity by men at two rave parties in Spain and Belgium. (AP)