As if one epidemic is not enough, a dangerous new virus is spreading around the world. Monkeypox, a pathogen that has appeared in West and Central Africa for about two weeks and causes flu-like symptoms and rashes, has occurred in places where it is not normally found.
Dozens of cases have been reported between them in Portugal, Spain and the UK. And now America. Authority of Massachusetts detect Tuesday Night Infection, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed quickly.
But don’t panic. The world has previously suppressed the outbreak of monkeypox. And we’re better prepared for the virus because we’ve been practicing the new coronavirus for three years.
“I’m not worried about something similar to an outbreak,” Irwin Redlerer, founding director of the Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told The Daily Beast. He was using the epidemiological definition of an epidemic, which is an abrupt spread of an abnormal disease, but in a small geographic area rather than worldwide.
A small number of cases of monkey chickenpox in a small number of countries have not yet been classified as an outbreak by the standards of many scientists. Can the virus spread to more people in more countries? yes. But don’t expect anything like the spread of COVID. “SARS-CoV is much more contagious than other infections,” Stephanie James, director of the Viral Testing Laboratory at the University of Colorado Regis, told The Daily Beast.
A slower spread means more time for authorities to confirm cases, isolate infected people, and track recent contacts with others. Although there is no specific vaccine for monkeypox, the virus is similar to smallpox, so a smallpox vaccine must be reasonably effective and a useful tool for contact tracers to stop the transmission of chickenpox after identifying those at risk.
That’s what happened in 2003, when monkey pox last gained a significant foothold in the United States – then it was transported from Ghana in West Africa to Texas via pet rodents. 47 people became ill, but rapid response from state and federal health authorities and a few smallpox vaccinations prevented everyone from dying and, albeit temporarily, quickly cleared the virus in the United States.
The first leap from a monkey or rodent to a human was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa in 1970, and the monkey head is occasionally spreading across Africa. However, it rarely infects more than 2,000 people a year, and only 33 people died during the longest-lasting outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1981 and 1986.
There’s good reason monkey pox isn’t as contagious as COVID. Where COVID is spread through very fine droplets (the kind we all spit into our yards in all directions whenever we breathe, talk, laugh or cough), monkey pox prefers larger droplets that don’t travel far. It can also spread through direct contact between the pathogen and an open wound, but its route of transmission is much less likely than a large, rapidly falling droplet.
The key to contain monkeypox is to quickly identify the virus so that quarantine, contact tracing, and treatment can be initiated before the virus spreads too far. We were pretty good about it a generation ago. Thanks to Corona, it’s better now. “Most of the world is far better prepared for monkey pox than it was two and a half years ago,” Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, president of Singapore’s Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infections, told Daily Beast.
“You need to quickly figure out what’s going on.“
Testing for all viral diseases, not just SARS-CoV-2 infection, is more sophisticated. “I think we’ve learned how to do bulk testing more efficiently,” said James. “PCR testing is really easy with the right reagents. You can also test multiple viruses at the same time.”
We do contact tracking better too. It was a niche practice three years ago by examining people’s movements and relationships to see who they had close contact with. Today, tens of thousands of healthcare workers around the world have experience with contact tracing.
The general public is also more vigilant. Of course, COVID-related restrictions on schools, business and travel annoy many. No one likes to wear a mask. A small but stubborn minority in some countries refuses to take a free, safe and effective vaccine that provides strong protection against the worst consequences of COVID-19 infection.
However, that resistance is different from the deep perception most people currently have of viral diseases. People will probably notice that a friend, neighbour, or family member has chickenpox and will probably take it seriously. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on how important it is to stay ahead of the epidemic threat rather than keep chasing it,” Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health, told The Daily Beast. “The world is now familiar with the terms ‘case investigation’, ‘contact tracing’ and ‘genome sequencing’.”
Perhaps the most reassuring thing is that we already have a vaccine. Due to COVID we had to close and wait a year before the first jab was ready. However, there is no need to wait as the smallpox vaccine works against monkeypox.
With the recent surge in monkey chickenpox cases, if there’s cause for concern, it’s that we don’t know exactly where and how it started. Pinpointing the origin of the virus’s spread will certainly help contain it. “We need to figure out what’s going on quickly,” James Lawler, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told The Daily Beast.
“But in general, we think monkeypox is much less lethal than smallpox, it’s easier to control in terms of transmission, and vaccines and antivirals are available,” Lawler added.
All of this is not to worry about. Unless your contact tracer knocks on you (a unlikely suggestion) or you notice that you or your neighbor or yourself are getting weird blisters (which is even more unlikely), you don’t need to do anything else. “The risk to the general public is very low,” Rimoin said.
Monkeypox is one of those periodic comebacks. But this is one of those viruses that we contain really well.