If you’re still reeling from the Covid pandemic, sorry, there’s another virus to deal with. This time it’s monkeypox, with about 80 confirmed cases in 11 countries, including the UK, who don’t normally get the disease.
so what’s up? Is it time to worry, or are we too excited after Covid?
Let’s be clear: this is not another Covid, and we’re not days away from locking down the spread of monkeypox.
However, this is an unusual and unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox. This completely surprises disease scientists and is always worrisome when a virus changes its behavior.
So far, monkeypox is predictable.
The virus’ natural home is wild animals, which are actually thought to be rodents rather than monkeys. Someone in the rainforests of West and Central Africa came into contact with an infected organism, and the virus made the species leap. Their skin developed a rash, blistered, and then crusted over.
The virus is now outside its usual home and is difficult to spread, so prolonged close contact is required to continue. As a result, epidemics tend to be small and go away on their own.
There have been a handful of cases in other parts of the world before, including UKBut all of these can be instantly linked to those who traveled to the affected countries and brought them home.
This is no longer the case.
Sir Peter Hobby, director of Oxford University’s Institute for Epidemiological Sciences, told me: “We are in a very new situation and this is a surprise and a concern.”
While he said it was not “Covid-Two”, he said “we need to act” to stop the spread of the virus because it is “something we really want to avoid”.
Dr. Hugh Adler, who has treated monkeypox patients, agrees: “This is not a pattern we’ve seen before – it’s a surprise. »
We know this pandemic is different, but we don’t know why.
There are two big options: the virus changes, or the same old virus ends up in the right place at the right time and thrives.
Monkeypox is a DNA virus, so it doesn’t mutate as quickly as the new coronavirus or flu.very early genetic analysis It suggests that the current case is closely related to the form of the virus that emerged in 2018 and 2019. It’s too early to know for sure, but so far, there’s no evidence it’s a new mutant mutant in the game.
But viruses don’t need to change to take advantage, as the unexpected large outbreaks of Ebola and Zika over the past decade have taught us.
“We always thought Ebola was easy to contain, but it wasn’t,” said Professor Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
It is unclear why gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected. Does Sexual Behavior Promote Transmission? Is this just a coincidence? Is it a community that understands more about sexual health and gets checked out?
Monkeypox may also spread more easily. Large-scale smallpox vaccinations in the past may have provided older generations with some protection from the closely related monkeypox.
“It probably spreads more efficiently than in the smallpox era, but we don’t see any indication that it might be spreading,” said Dr Adler, who still expects the outbreak to subside.
Understanding how this outbreak started will help predict what will come next.
We know we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg, because the detected cases don’t correspond to a clear picture of the person transmitting it to the person, etc. Instead, many cases appear to be unrelated and thus missing links in a chain that appears to span Europe and beyond.
A recent massive superspreader event, where large numbers of people gathered in one place, got monkeypox in one place like a festival, and then brought it to different countries, could explain the current situation.
Another explanation for infecting so many unconnected people is that the virus has actually been bubbling unknowingly for some time, involving large numbers of people.
Either way, we can expect to continue to find more cases.
“I don’t think the public should be worried at this stage, but I don’t think we’ve discovered all of this yet, and we have no control over it,” said Professor Jimmy Whitworth, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
But remember, our situation is different from Covid.
Monkeypox is a known virus, not a new one, and we already have vaccines and treatments. It’s usually mild, but can be more dangerous for young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.
But it spreads more slowly than Covid, and the distinctive, painful rash is harder to ignore than a cough. This makes it easier to find people who may have been infected and to vaccinate those at risk.
However, the WHO regional director for Europe, Hans Kruger, warned that “as we move into summer … with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I fear the spread will not accelerate”.
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- James Gallagher