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Since May 2022, over 21,000 mpox cases have been reported from 29 EU/EEA countries, predominantly among men who have sex with men (MSM). The Netherlands was the fourth most affected country in Europe, with more than 1,200 cases and a crude notification rate of 70.7 per million population. The first national case was reported on 10 May, yet potential prior transmission remains unknown. Insight into prolonged undetected transmission can help to understand the current outbreak dynamics and aid future public health interventions. We performed a retrospective study and phylogenetic analysis to elucidate whether undetected transmission of human mpox virus (hMPXV) occurred before the first reported cases in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In 401 anorectal and ulcer samples from visitors to centres for sexual health in Amsterdam or Rotterdam dating back to 14 February 2022, we identified two new cases, the earliest from 6 May. This coincides with the first cases reported in the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal. We found no evidence of widespread hMPXV transmission in Dutch sexual networks of MSM before May 2022. Likely, the mpox outbreak expanded across Europe within a short period in the spring of 2022 through an international highly intertwined network of sexually active MSM.


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