The worldwide mpox outbreak starting in May 2022 marks the occurrence of another previously atypical infectious disease in Europe. This study’s objective was to present a comprehensive overview based on the gathered data and to illustrate the approach of the Cologne Health Department to contain the mpox outbreak.
In this retrospective observational study, 368 individuals reported to the Cologne Health Department as PCR-positive for mpox were included. Data were collected in structured telephone interviews and digitally processed.
The first mpox case in Cologne was recorded on May 24, 2022. The local outbreak lasted approximately 4 months and reached its peak in July. The last reported case in Cologne occurred on September 17. Transmissions mostly occurred through sexual contacts (67.4%) or other close physical contacts (4.6%) between men, but also through fomites, in the context of events or occasionally in the work environment. In 21.5% of cases, no route of infection could be determined. The mean incubation period was 8.2 days. Clinically, mpox infections usually presented with skin and/or mucosal lesions accompanied by general symptoms. In 74.8% of cases, a prodromal stage was absent. Initially, the rash often had an unspecific appearance, but in the further clinical course, it usually passed through the typical stages. Most infections resolved spontaneously under home care. In 3.5% of cases, however, inpatient hospitalisation was required. Infected persons with a previous smallpox vaccination had 0.43 times the odds of unvaccinated persons to be affected by lesions in 3 or more body regions and 0.30 times the odds to develop lesions in all 5 body regions. Previous vaccination statistically reduced the total duration of symptoms by 2.0 days.
The mpox outbreak 2022 in Cologne primarily affected men who have sex with men and have reported recent sexual encounters. The observed average incubation period was shorter than initially assumed. Mucosal involvement and associated symptoms occur in a relevant number of cases and can lead to more severe clinical courses. Previous smallpox vaccination was statistically significantly associated with milder courses of mpox. In the case of an unclear rash or symptoms suggesting mucosal involvement, mpox should be considered as a differential diagnosis. An equally rapid and well-orchestrated public health response are crucial for infection control.

© 2023. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany.