For years, African scientists tracked a huge increase in cases of monkeypox.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, more than 2,800 suspected cases were reported in 2018. A year later, there were about 3,800.
By 2020 – half a century after the first human infection was detected in the central African country known as Zaire – the total number of suspected annual cases neared 6,300, including 229 deaths.
As globalization increased, there was a marked increase in infections, humans continued to encroach on animal habitats, and the cross-protection offered by decades-old smallpox vaccination campaigns began to decline. Given that perfect storm, many scientists were not surprised by the recent emergence of monkeypox in other countries around the world.
Some have also warned that this will not be the last time the virus has spread beyond its specific region.
“The recent outbreaks are the culmination of years of warnings that were basically ignored,” said Dr. Boghuma Titanji, a scientist and infectious disease physician at Emory University in Atlanta.
“Because unfortunately, monkeypox is a disease that has traditionally spread in Africa – and usually in very remote parts of Africa – and affects populations that the world doesn’t always care about.”
‘Our fears are being confirmed’
The monkeypox virus, which is known to cause skin lesions, usually enters the human population when someone touches or eats infected wildlife. From there, it can be spread by close contact, including respiratory droplets in the air, skin-to-skin contact or if someone touches contaminated surfaces such as clothing or bedding.
TitanG told Nation World News that most researchers studying the emerging virus had long been concerned that it might “evolve to fill the ecological niche” when a similar virus, smallpox, was introduced through global vaccination programs. was erased.
“If given the opportunity for uncontrolled spread … it may be better able to infect humans and cause larger outbreaks than we have seen in the past,” she said.
The incidence of human monkeypox in rural Congo “increased dramatically” in the decades after mass smallpox vaccination was discontinued. Researchers warned in a paper published in 2010 In the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In Nigeria, more than 500 monkeypox cases have been recorded since 2017, including a handful of deaths – and the actual number could be higher, given the limited monitoring of the virus’s spread in rural areas, said Nigerian virologist Dr. Oyewale Tomori said.
“The longer we stay away from the smallpox vaccine, the more likely we are to spread monkeypox,” said Tomori, a member of the Global Virome Project Leadership Board and former president of the Nigerian Academy of Science.
“We’ve been saying this for a long time. Now our fears are being confirmed.”
Climate change and deforestation-induced animal migration are also fostering greater human-animal interactions, Titanji said, making it easier for viruses like monkeypox to spread from wildlife to human populations.
“As interconnected as the world is, it takes less than 24 hours for a traveler from an endemic country like Nigeria, Cameroon or the like. [Congo]To really go to Europe or North America or South America, or anywhere else on the planet for that matter,” she said.
The spread out of Africa is no big surprise, said Dr., a physician and monkeypox researcher at the Kinshasa School of Public Health in the capital city of Congo. Beatrice Nguette echoed.
“All communicable diseases have exit potential,” she said. “You have a person visiting an endemic [area]Or an area where the outbreak was occurring – you have that possibility.”
Recent boom in global travel
But why now, exactly?
Cases of monkeypox have previously been reported sporadically in other countries, usually with ties to travel, but not on the scale of current multi-country outbreaks where local transmission is evident.
Hundreds of cases have so far been reported across several continents, with more than 50 confirmed or suspected infections mainly in men, which are now under investigation in Canada.
they Indulge a Child in QuebecJoe attended school after being exposed.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) officials, there is no concrete evidence yet that the virus has mutated, although global teams are still analyzing samples.
Instead, Dr. David Heyman, a key advisor to the WHO and former head of its emergency department, recently recommended That the unprecedented global outbreak was a “random event” and was probably tied to transmission in waves held in Europe.
People can sometimes be infected with monkeypox for up to a month, including a day or so before the skin sores appear – which takes a long time for the virus to transmit. This means Africa has higher case counts and greater mobility after a long journey during the COVID-19 pandemic could provide ideal conditions for its rapid spread.
“We’re seeing a huge jump in global travel, the likes of which we haven’t seen at any time in the last three years,” said Dr. Abdu Sharqawi, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network. Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto.
Given the unusual nature of current transmission patterns, there is also the possibility that the virus was spreading globally, undetected for some time, until physicians outside Africa realized what they were seeing. , Director of the J.D. McLean Center for Tropical Dr. Michael Liebman said. Medicine at McGill University in Montreal.
“If this Is has evolved in a certain way, which may make it a bit different from what it has been doing in Africa in the past.”
WHO warns of ‘further transmission’
The questions surrounding the current global outbreak make it hard to predict how it will play out. But Tomori of the Global Virome Project said that monkeypox outbreaks in Africa are generally short and flowing.
“We don’t see rapid transmission like you see with COVID, for example,” he said. “But it also dies within a few months of spreading about one or two generations … then suddenly reappears.”
Canada, UK and . officers of many other countries are also following ring vaccination Strategies to cut the chains of virus transmission by Vaccinating certain high-risk individuals – such as close contact with people with suspected infection – with shots of smallpox.
Nevertheless, Dr. Hans Henry P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, issued a statement on Tuesday Given the number of large parties and festivals expected in the coming months, underlining their concern that “the likelihood of further transmission in Europe and elsewhere is high in the summer”.
“As of now, an effective response to monkeypox will not require as many comprehensive population measures as we needed for COVID-19 because the virus does not spread in the same way,” he continued. “But – and this is important – we don’t know yet whether we will be able to stop its spread completely.”
Officials from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control are also warning that if monkeypox spreads to local wildlife, It may be endemic to that continentAs in some parts of Africa – when a virus is continuously circulating in a specific area.
“If current trends continue — and there’s no reason to believe they shouldn’t — we’re going to see a lot more cases, and we’re going to see them over a very diverse period of geographies,” Yu Ka T K Sharkawi said.
Given the ongoing spread and the potential for future outbreaks, Emory University’s Titanji said it is important that the global public health community pays greater attention to animal-to-human virus transmission for both monkeypox and other emerging pathogens.
“When these outbreaks in North America and Europe end, will we go back to ignoring the spillover incidents that have happened in Africa for the past 50 years?” He asked.
“Or are we going to make a more meaningful investment toward better tracking the virus – and better protecting those populations – to actually prevent spillover events at their source?”