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There have been just 19 confirmed cases of monkeypox virus in Minnesota, but with more than 16,000 in more than 75 countries around the world, the World Health Organization has made the rare decision to declare monkeypox a public health emergency. 

Prior to Saturday's declaration – which was made unilaterally by WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – there had been six public health emergencies since the H1N1 swine flu spread across the globe in 2009. 

  • 2009 swine flu
  • 2014 polio
  • 2014 Ebola
  • 2016 Zika virus
  • 2018–20 Kivu Ebola
  • 2020 COVID-19

The most common way the monkeypox moves from one person to another is men having sex with men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the New York Times reports, New York City has had around 900 monkeypox cases, nearly all of them involving men who have sex with men. But it's unclear if the virus' quick spread around the world is a result of other means of transmission. The WHO report says the "modes of transmission sustaining the current outbreak are not fully understood."

From January to May there were 3,040 confirmed cases in 47 countries. That total has increased more than five fold with the virus spreading to at least 72 countries since. A total of five people  – three in Nigeria and two in the Central African Republic – have died. 

The WHO director general made the decision Saturday despite a panel of advisors not coming to agreement on making monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern."

“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” for a public health emergency, Dr. Tedros said.

Closer to home, the Mayo Clinic is monitoring the outbreak. 

"The monkeypox outbreak has spread far beyond what we see in typical outbreaks and will likely require a global effort to stop. It serves as a warning to the global community that this is a serious public health issue," said Dr. Richard Kennedy, co-director of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, on Saturday. 

The 19 cases confirmed through July 22 in Minnesota is a fraction of the 2,891 cases in the United States. Here's what the WHO says about monkeypox in the U.S. 

"In the United States, cases of monkeypox are widely distributed across the country, although most cases are concentrated in three large cities. While a few cases have occurred in children and a pregnant woman, 99% are related to male-to-male sexual contact."

Declaring monkeypox a public health emergency makes it easier for governments to more swiftly address the outbreak by increasing epidemiological disease surveillance and efforts to use existing or new therapeutics to help treat people infected with monkeypox. 

"The the current outbreak underscores the need to implement measures that identify those who are infected early on," said Andrew Badley, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic, "and then quickly isolate and manage them appropriately in order to prevent further infections and ultimately control the spread of this disease to other humans."

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