WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe

The World Health Organization's European office said Saturday that more monkeypox-related deaths can be expected, following reports of the first fatalities outside Africa, while stressing that severe complications were still be rare.

WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe
A woman waits for a dose of the Monkeypox vaccine in Paris on July 27th. The World Health Organisation said it expects more deaths in Europe due to the virus after two fatal cases were reported in Spain. Photo: ALAIN JOCARD / POOL / AFP

“With the continued spread of monkeypox in Europe, we will expect to see more deaths,” Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO Europe, said in a statement.

Smallwood emphasised that the goal needs to be “interrupting transmission quickly in Europe and stopping this outbreak”.

However, Smallwood stressed that in most cases the disease heals itself without the need for treatment.

“The notification of deaths due to monkeypox does not change our assessment of the outbreak in Europe. We know that although self-limiting in most cases, monkeypox can cause severe complications,” Smallwood noted.

The Spanish health ministry recorded a second monkeypox-related death on Saturday, a day after Spain and Brazil reported their first fatalities.

The announcements marked what are thought to be the first deaths linked to the current outbreak outside Africa.

Spanish authorities would not give the specific cause of death for the fatalities pending the outcome of an autopsy, while Brazilian authorities underlined that the man who died had “other serious conditions”.

“The usual reasons patients might require hospital care include help in managing pain, secondary infections, and in a small number of cases the need to manage life-threatening complications such as encephalitis,” Smallwood explained.

According to the WHO, more than 18,000 cases have been detected throughout the world outside of Africa since the beginning of May, with the majority of them in Europe.

The WHO last week declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.

As cases surge globally, the WHO on Wednesday called on the group currently most affected by the virus — men who have sex with men — to limit their sexual partners.

Early signs of the disease include a high fever, swollen lymph glands and a chickenpox-like rash.

The disease usually heals by itself after two to three weeks, sometimes taking a month.

A smallpox vaccine from Danish drug maker Bavarian Nordic, marketed under the name Jynneos in the United States and Imvanex in Europe, has also been found to protect against monkeypox.

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How Italy’s government is trying to ban the sale of CBD oil

Products containing CBD will only be legally available on prescription in Italy from this week after the government classified it as a narcotic substance, despite a European court ruling.

How Italy’s government is trying to ban the sale of CBD oil

As of Wednesday, September 20th, oil containing cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound derived from cannabis plants, can only be sold in Italy in pharmacies by prescription.

The change came into force 30 days after the Italian government signed a decree which classified “CBD for oral administration” as a narcotic substance.

The Meloni administration’s move to block the sale of CBD oil, which had long been classified as a food supplement, was met with an angry reaction from representatives of the Italian CBD industry, which they said was being “sacrificed” to favour the pharmaceutical sector.

Italian cannabis industry association Canapa Sativa Italia (CSI) said the move was “not only devoid of scientific foundation, but will also have serious repercussions for Italy,” reported the industry news website Business of Cannabis.

“The sale will now require a rigorous system of registration as a drug with the health ministry, a procedure absolutely unsuitable for a substance without risks such as CBD,” the organisation said.

Opposition politicians described the latest move to block the sale of CBD as “ideological” and “grotesque, if not criminal”.

Many pointed out how it was contrary to a World Health Organisation recommendation not to classify CBD as a controlled substance, and the European Commission’s statement in 2020 that CBD was not considered a narcotic drug under European law.

This followed a 2020 European Court of Justice ruling that products like CBD oil shouldn’t be considered narcotics as, “according to the current state of scientific knowledge,” they “do not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health.”

Oils and other edible products containing CBD are legally available without prescription across most of the European Union, though laws vary by country.

The sale of pure CBD oil is legal across most of the EU, though many countries have restrictions on products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the hemp molecule with psychoactive effects. (Photo by FRED TANNEAU / AFP)

Elisabetta Biavati, president of the Medical Cannabis Patients Association and author of an open letter to Health Minister Orazio Schillaci, said people in Italy who use CBD to relieve pain, anxiety or insomnia will be penalised by the government’s stance.

“Doctors are generally very reluctant to fill out this prescription because, due to cultural training, they tend to view cannabidiol as a drug when, among other things, it has no narcotic effect in itself,” she told newspaper La Stampa.

Patients in Italy would be left with two options: paying for a private prescription, or turning to the black market, she said, unless they were able to buy the product from neighbouring countries.

“In France, Switzerland or Slovenia, CBD is considered a simple supplement, with protections for the end consumer, as could also be put in place in Italy,” she said.

Italian hemp federation Federcanapa pointed out that the government will not be able to prevent the “free circulation” of CBD products from other European countries, meaning the law would be a blow only to Italian producers.

The CSI said it was calling for a “revision of the decree” and a “working table based on scientific evidence” to address the issue.

The government’s move to block the production of CBD in Italy came after an Italian court in February overturned what it called an “absurdly restrictive” decree which aimed to classify hemp leaves and flowers as narcotics, amid a broader push by leading politicians to clamp down on ‘cannabis light’.