Is Monkeypox the new COVID-19 in the world? Scientists are making a judgment

As if a pandemic were not enough, a dangerous new virus is spreading around the world. Starting about two weeks ago, monkeypox – a West and Central African pathogen that causes flu-like symptoms and a rash – appeared in places where it is not usually found.

Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom have reported a few dozen cases among themselves. And now the United States. Authorities in Massachusetts spotted the infection Tuesday night, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly confirmed it.

But do not panic. People have had smallpox cases in the past. And we are even better prepared for the virus now that we have three years of practice with the new coronavirus.

“I’m not worried about anything that looks like an outbreak,” Irwin Redlener, the founding director of Columbia University ‘s National Disaster Preparedness Center, told The Daily Beast. He used the epidemiological definition of an epidemic, which is a sudden spread of an unusual disease, but in a small geographical area and not globally.

The few cases of smallpox in monkeys in a handful of countries are not yet considered an epidemic, by the standards of many scientists. Could the virus spread to more people in more countries? Yes. But do not expect it to be something like the spread of COVID. “SARS-CoV is much more contagious than other infections,” Stephanie James, head of a virus testing lab at Regis University in Colorado, told the Daily Beast.

Slower spread means authorities have more time to confirm cases, isolate infected people and track their recent contact with others. There is no vaccine specific to monkey pox, but the virus is similar to smallpox, so smallpox vaccines should be reasonably effective — and a useful tool to prevent the transmission of smallpox as soon as contact detectors detect individuals. at risk.

This happened in 2003, the last time monkey pox was dealt a major blow to the United States – this time through rodent pets sent to Texas from Ghana in West Africa. Forty-seven people fell ill, but a swift response from state and federal health officials – and several doses of smallpox vaccine – prevented anyone from dying and quickly, albeit temporarily, eradicated the virus in the United States.

Monkeypox, which first jumped from monkeys or rodents to humans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa in 1970, erupts here and there from time to time – usually in Africa. But it rarely infects more than 2,000 people a year – and killed just 33 people during the prolonged epidemic in the DRC between 1981 and 1986.

A scar from the smallpox vaccine is visible on the upper arm. There is no approved vaccine specifically for monkey pox. Historically, however, the smallpox vaccine provides good protection against aphids – and possibly for life.

Photo by Bernd Weißbrod / image alliance via Getty Images

There are good reasons why monkey pox is not as contagious as COVID. Where COVID spreads through very fine spit droplets — the kind we all shoot for meters in all directions every time we breathe, talk, laugh, or cough — apes prefer larger droplets that do not travel very far. It can be spread through direct contact between the pathogen and an open wound, but this route of transmission is even less likely than those large droplets that fall rapidly.

The key to limiting monkey pox is to identify it quickly so that isolation, contact detection and treatment can begin before the virus spreads too far. We were very good at it a generation ago. We are even better at it now, thanks in large part to COVID. “Most people are much better prepared for monkey pox than we were two and a half years ago,” Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infections, told the Daily Beast.

We need to understand what is happening – quickly.

The tests are more sophisticated — not just for SARS-CoV-2 infections, but for a whole range of viral diseases. “I would like to believe that we have learned how to conduct mass testing more efficiently,” said James. “PCR tests are really easy as long as we have the right reagents. “We can also check for multiple viruses at once.”

We are also better at locating contacts. Investigating people’s movements and relationships to map who they have been in close contact with and when was a specialized practice three years ago. Today, many tens of thousands of healthcare professionals around the world have experience in making contacts.

The general public is also more alert. Certainly, the restrictions associated with COVID in schools, business and travel irritate many people. Nobody likes to wear a mask. Small but persistent minorities in some countries even refuse to receive free, safe and effective vaccines that offer strong protection against the worst effects of a COVID infection.

Roman Woelfel, head of the German Armed Forces Institute of Microbiology, is working in his laboratory in Munich on May 20, 2022, after Germany detected the first case of smallpox in monkeys.

Photo by Christine Uyanik / Reuters

But this arrogance refutes the deep awareness that most people now have when it comes to viral diseases. People will probably notice if a friend, neighbor or family member is infected with smallpox – and they will probably take it seriously. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the crucial importance of staying ahead of the threat of infectious diseases rather than constantly chasing them,” Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told The Daily Beast. “People are now familiar with the terms ‘case investigation’, ‘contact tracking’ and ‘genomic sequence’.”

Perhaps most reassuring is that we already have a vaccine. With COVID, we had to lock in and wait for a year before the first jabs were ready. But because the smallpox vaccine works in monkeypox, there is no waiting.

If there is cause for concern in the recent outbreak of monkey pox, it is that we do not yet know exactly where and how it started. Locating the origin of a viral spread obviously helps to limit it. “We need to understand what is happening — quickly,” James Lowler, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told the Daily Beast.

“So, in general, we think monkey pox is a lot less deadly than smallpox, easier to transmit and more susceptible to vaccines and antivirals,” Lawler added.

All this we say, do not worry. Unless a contact tracker hits (an incredible suggestion) or you notice strange blisters on your neighbor or yourself (even more unlikely), you do not need to do anything different. “The risk to the general public is very low,” Rimoin said.

Monkeypox makes one of its periodic returns. But this is a virus that we are very good at limiting.

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