World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said that the global outbreak of monkeypox is “unusual and concerning”. The health body will form an emergency committee next week to assess the rising cases being reported in 39 countries.

“I have decided to convene the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations on Thursday next week, to assess whether this outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern,” he said.

Monkeypox is a rare infection that is mainly spread by wild animals like rodents and primates in parts of west or central Africa, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

The disease causes a mild illness and can result in symptoms such as high temperature, headache, backache and a chickenpox-like rash. The infection can spread if a person touches monkeypox skin blisters or uses clothing, bed sheets or towels of those suffering from the disease.

So far this year, more than 1,600 confirmed and almost 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported to the World Health Organization from 39 countries. Of these, monkeypox has been detected in seven countries for years, and the remaining 32 are newly-affected countries.

“So far this year, 72 deaths have been reported from previously-affected countries,” Tedros said. “No deaths have been reported so far from the newly-affected countries.”

However, the World Health Organization said it is verifying reports of a monkeypox-related death from Brazil.

The global health body’s goal is to help countries to contain transmission of the virus and stop the outbreak with surveillance, contact-tracing and isolation of infected patients, Tedros said.

On Tuesday, the health agency published interim guidelines on the use of smallpox vaccines for monkeypox. However, it clarified that it does not recommend mass vaccination against monkeypox.

“While smallpox vaccines are expected to provide some protection against monkeypox, there is limited clinical data, and limited supply,” Tedros said. “Any decision about whether to use vaccines should be made jointly by individuals who may be at risk and their healthcare provider, based on an assessment of risks and benefits, on a case-by-case basis.”

The World Health Organization also said it will soon announce a new name for the monkeypox virus.

“WHO is also working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades [group of organisms] and the disease it causes,” Tedros said.

The decision came after a group of international scientists wrote in a paper on June 10 that there is an “urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising nomenclature for monkeypox virus”.

They claimed that the mainstream media was using photos of African patients to depict the pox lesions.