A new study suggests that the monkeypox virus mutated at a much faster rate than would normally be expected and is likely going through a period of “accelerated evolution.”
virus, which has infected more than
3,500 people in 48 countries Since its identification outside Africa in May, dozens of new mutations may have caused the more contagious. Overall, 50 new mutations have not been seen in the virus from previous strains found from 2018 to 2019, according to a new study published June 24 in the journal. nature medicine (opens in new tab), Scientists don’t usually expect virus Like monkeypox, one or two more mutations tend to get acquired every year, the study authors noted. Monkeypox is a rare disease that virologists think can be naturally transmitted to monkeys and rodents. An orthopoxvirus, it comes from the same family and genus as the variola virus, which causes smallpox, and does not usually spread far from West and Central Africa, where it is endemic. This year, however, the first widespread outbreak of the disease spread beyond Africa, surprising scientists and the World Health Organization (WHO) to begin considering whether to classify the outbreak as one.
global health emergency,
Strains of monkeypox virus can be sorted into two groups, or lineages, known as West African and Congo Basin,
by state, Viruses in each clade carry different fatality rates; The West African clade has a mortality rate of about 1%, while the Congo Basin clade kills an estimated 10% of the people it infects. STAT reported that the ongoing outbreak appears to be driven by the West African clade.
as a big double-stranded
DNA The virus is much more capable of fixing replication errors than the monkeypox one royal army Viruses like HIV, which means the current monkeypox strain may have actually accumulated only a few mutations since it first began circulating in 2018. But, after collecting DNA from 15 monkeypox viral samples and reconstructing their genetic information, the researchers found that the true mutation rate was six to 12 times higher than they expected.
The researchers wrote in the paper that the steep jump in the mutation rate of monkey viruses “is much higher than would be expected considering previous estimates of replacement rates for orthopoxviruses.” “Our data reveal additional clues to ongoing viral evolution and possible human adaptation.”
Historically, monkeypox is spread from person to person through close skin contact with open skin sores, bodily fluids, contaminated material, or respiratory droplets that are coughed into the air. But the unprecedented speed of new infections may suggest that something may be changing about how the virus infects its hosts – and new mutations may be a possible cause.
Several of the mutations identified by the researchers also indicate that they may have emerged from human contact with the virus.
immune system, specifically a family of virus-fighting enzymes called APOBEC3. These enzymes attack the virus when they copy their genetic code, forcing them to make a mistake, an act that usually breaks the virus apart. However, sometimes, the virus survives the encounter and simply picks up some mutation in its genetic code, by state, It could be that such battles occurred repeatedly and the virus captured multiple mutations in a short period of time, the researchers theorized.
The virus’s mutation rate increased in 2018, and there are some explanations as to why it did. It is possible that since then the virus has been circulating at low levels across Europe, picking up many new mutations through its battle with enzymes. Or it’s possible that, after the 2017 outbreak, the virus died out in Europe and continued to spread in most African countries – evolving rapidly as it spread among smaller communities before resurfacing in non-endemic countries this year. went away.
Alternatively, the virus may have been spreading among animals in non-endemic countries without us for some time, before suddenly making the leap to humans this year.
Despite its name, monkeypox is most commonly transmitted from rodents to humans, of which African rope squirrels, striped rats, giant pouched rats, and brush-tailed porcupines are the main reservoirs of the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention,
The last time monkeypox occurred in the United States was in 2003, when 71 people became infected with the West African clade after a shipment of infected Gambian pouched rats imported from Ghana to Texas passed the disease to local prairie dogs. went.
A direct treatment for monkeypox has not yet been tested, but doctors are administering antiviral drugs and antibodies taken from people who have been immunized with the smallpox vaccine to patients. If people have had the monkeypox or smallpox vaccine, transmission is also reduced, enabling scientists to prevent further infection by vaccinating close contacts of the initial case – a strategy known as “ring vaccination”. is known to have led to the eradication of smallpox in 1980.
Originally published on Live Science.