Category: Disease (Page 1 of 13)
- The current strain of the monkeypox virus circulating around the world is mutating at a pace faster than expected
- Experts believe it has been in circulation since 2018, and has mutated 12 times as much of it should have since then
- The current outbreak includes over 3,500 cases in nearly 50 countries, including just over 200 in the U.S.
- Researchers believe that the reason this version of the virus has managed to spread to rapidly is because of its many mutations
PUBLISHED: 17:03 EDT, 27 June 2022 | UPDATED: 19:37 EDT, 27 June 2022
The monkeypox virus strain that has emerged across the world in recent weeks may be evolving at an abnormally fast rate – making it more infectious than previous versions of the virus.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the virus has replicated up to 12 times its expected pace since 2018.
This means that the virus, which is generally believed to spread by physical touch, contaminated surfaces or very close bodily contact could be able to spread in ways atypical to the tropical viruses normal patterns.
It would explain the recent global monkeypox update, where 201 cases have been detected across 25 U.S. states and Washington D.C., with over 3,500 cases detected worldwide in countries where the virus is not endemic
Researchers found that the current strain of the monkeypox virus that has caused worldwide outbreaks of the tropical virus is mutating at a speed 12 times what is expected of it. This potentially makes it more transmissible
Researchers, whose findings are pending official publishing in nature, collected and studied 15 samples of the monkeypox virus for the study.
The NIH team restructured the viruses genetic information to find the number of changes the virus had undergone since this strain began its circulation.
While the virus was detected recently in human populations, experts believe this strain of West African monkeypox first began its movement through the world in 2018.
How viruses mutate and circulate is a generally known science. DNA viruses like monkeypox generally do not rapidly mutate – like COVID-19 does.
The nature of the virus allows it to fix errors that emerge when it replicates, leaving much lower room for mutations to form – and in effect limiting the number of variants.
When researchers did investigate this strain of the virus, they found that it had mutated between six to 12 times the generally believed rate for the virus.
Why exactly this is can not be determined, though the experts believe that this could be playing a role in how the virus has managed to storm the world this year.
Cases of monkeypox have appeared in nearly 50 countries where it is not endemic in recent weeks.
While occasionally non-endemic nations will find cases – two were detected in the U.S. in 2021 – infections are usually easy to find and outbreaks can be controlled by health officials once they catch wind of circulation.
This outbreak has been different, though, with cases quickly being detected in droves around the world. This could signal a more infectious version of the virus is afoot.
The 201 cases in the U.S. this year are believed to be a severe undercount as some experts have warned that the country does not have the necessary testing and tracking capabilities to stay on top of each new case.
The version of monkeypox spreading around the world is of the West African variety, but it is mutating at a pace that would not be expected of a DNA virus (file photo)
Some even fear that the virus will become endemic in the U.S., UK and other countries around the world.
Most infections that have been spotted as part of the current outbreak are among gay and bisexual men, both in the U.S. and across Europe.
California, America’s most populous state, has recorded 51 infections thus far – the most of any state. New York and Illinois have also logged 35 and 26 respectively.
With the way the virus has spread through sexual networks, some fear that Pride festivities across America last weekend could lead to a surge in cases.
In preparation, New York City health officials began to rollout monkeypox vaccines to the city’s population last week.
Supply of the shots quickly ran thin, though, with walk-in appointments being cut off on Friday due to high demand.
With the jab taking around four days to fully activate as well, there are questions over whether the shots came out too late to matter ahead of the city’s Pride parade which hosted around two million people.
Experts warn that monkeypox is mutating at 12 times the expected rate
Is the new monkeypox virus an STD?
By Sandra Rose | Saturday, May 21, 2022
The CDC first detected cluster cases of monkeypox virus in the United States in 2003.
As cases of a “new” monkeypox spreads in US cities, experts are questioning whether the virus is sexually transmitted.
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes (in neck, armpits and groin areas. Symptoms are followed by blisters that burst and crust over.
Health officials say monkeypox infection can be prevented by vaccines stockpiled from previous outbreaks.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The viral disease is believed to be spread to humans by domestic prairie dogs and other exotic animals being kept as household pets.
Health officials wonder if the recent spike in monkeypox cases in the U.S. and Europe is caused by a “new” virus.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Through the first months of 2020, more than 4,500 cases and 171 deaths have been tracked by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Now officials fear that monkeypox has mutated into a new, more contagious virus that is sexually transmitted.
“The cases currently being detected are among those engaging in sexual activity, and the symptoms are unfamiliar to many,” the WHO said in a statement.
FluxFactory / E+
Dr. Jeremy Faust discovered that all 89 confirmed monkeypox cases in Europe are among men who had sex with men.
Of the cases confirmed in Europe, Dr. Faust said, “all 89 are males, a large number of whom are young and middle-aged adults.”
Dr. Faust said the evidence “suggests strongly” that monkeypox may still be primarily spread through sexual contact, a known major mode of transmission.
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
He said if the virus was spread through the air via respiratory droplets or surface to skin contact, some women would be infected by now.
Virologist Angela Rasmussen believes the virus is spread within a sexual network of men who then travel, which explains why the virus is popping up in other countries.
"Now there has been community spread it may be hard to fully snuff this out. I don't think it is going to become a major epidemic because this is a virus that is difficult to spread," says @ScottGottliebMD on monkeypox. "I don't think it's going to be widespread." pic.twitter.com/bq1mgxRSMQ— Squawk Box (@SquawkCNBC) May 20, 2022
This highly magnified electron micrographic images shows a mulberry-type monkeypox virus particle.CDC
The United States confirmed a case of monkeypox infection on Wednesday in a man who recently traveled to Canada. It is not yet clear if the man, who lives in Massachusetts and who traveled to Canada by car, is connected to the growing outbreak of monkeypox cases in Europe.
The case was announced in a statement posted to the website of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Confirmatory testing was done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had warned earlier Wednesday that cases in this country were likely to begin to be detected.
“Given that we have seen now confirmed cases out of Portugal, suspected cases out of Spain, we’re seeing this expansion of confirmed and suspect cases globally, we have a sense that no one has their arms around this to know how large and expansive it might be. And given how much travel there is between the United States and Europe, I am very confident we’re going to see cases in the United States,” said Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s division of high consequence pathogens and pathology.
McQuiston said in an email Wednesday that it has not yet been determined if the Massachusetts case was part of the growing European outbreak.
The development adds the United States and possibly Canada to a growing list of countries reporting monkeypox cases in an outbreak first spotted in the United Kingdom. The Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement late Wednesday that no cases have been reported at this time.
Maria Van Kerkhove, who leads the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit in the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said Spain has now confirmed some cases and other countries will join this list.
“We have had positive cases identified in the U.K., Portugal, and Spain. And we expect there will be others,” Van Kerkhove told STAT on Wednesday.Related: CDC expresses concern about possibility of undetected monkeypox spread in U.K.
Earlier in the day Spain announced that it was investigating eight suspected cases, and Portugal said it was investigating more than 20 suspected cases, five of which have already been confirmed. It is not currently clear if the outbreaks are linked to each other or to the one in the U.K., where nine confirmed and one probable case have been reported.
If they are connected, it is not yet known if the virus spread from the U.K. to Europe, or the reverse. Nor is it known how long the virus has been spreading in these countries. “Clearly it’s been going on for a few weeks,” said Van Kerkhove.
Most of the cases have been detected in men who are gay, bisexual, or are men who have sex with men, she confirmed, but cautioned against over-focusing on that fact.
“We’re finding where we’re looking,” Van Kerkhove said, noting that countries have been contacting sexual health clinics asking about patients with unusual rashes. It is important that other health care providers in other settings — general practitioners, dermatologists, and others — are aware of the possibility they might see monkeypox cases so that if the virus is spreading more broadly, they take adequate precautions and those cases aren’t missed.
The details that have come to light so far raise the prospect of an outbreak that is even more geographically widespread, said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
“There could be dynamic transmission here that we just haven’t appreciated because of the potential number of contacts,” he said, adding it will be important to collect information about how much intimate contact patients have had and where those contacts may have come from.
Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said a number of countries outside Central and West Africa, where monkeypox is more common, have experience coping with introductions of the virus, so there is a possibility that the outbreaks will be “relatively small.”
“I think that’s still probable, given the past,” Inglesby told STAT. “But on the other hand, this is starting off with much more of a foothold, in a much more distributed way, and we don’t understand how it got … into those networks.
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“This could have the potential to move around and is going to require pretty strong public education efforts in affected communities and maybe even more broadly, so that people recognize the possibility” of monkeypox infection, he said.
The U.K. Health Security Agency announced Wednesday that it had detected two additional cases, bringing to nine the number reported there this month. Prior to this outbreak the U.K. had only ever detected seven monkeypox cases. The two latest cases had not traveled to the countries where monkeypox virus is endemic, and have no known links to any of the prior cases “so it is possible they acquired the infection through community transmission,” the agency said in a statement, adding that recent cases have been predominantly among men who identify as gay, bisexual, or who have sex with men.
The rapid accumulation of cases is ringing alarm bells.
On Tuesday, the CDC signaled it was worried about the state of the outbreak in the U.K. and the potential that cases would be found in other countries.
“We do have a level of concern that this is very different than what we typically think of from monkeypox,” McQuiston said. “We don’t understand how many other cases could be out there in the U.K., for example, with undefined chains of transmission. We have a sense that there might be some unusual methods of transmission, through intimate contact or some form of close personal contact that we’ve not previously associated with monkeypox.”
The WHO, which previously designated monkeypox as a priority pathogen, has organized a meeting of experts on monkeypox and orthopoxviruses — the wider family of pox viruses — for early next week. Among the issues the experts will likely tackle is an apparent change in the epidemiology of the disease in countries where the virus is endemic that has occurred in recent years.
“We’re seeing a shift in the age distribution of cases. We’re seeing a shift in the geographic distribution of cases,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program. “We have to really understand that deep ecology. We have to really understand human behavior in those regions and we have to try to prevent the disease from reaching humans in the first place.”
The monkeypox virus is related to the variola virus, which caused smallpox, a once dreaded disease that was declared eradicated in 1980. The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than smallpox.
Infected people develop flu-like symptoms — fever, body aches, chills — but also swollen lymph nodes. With one to three days of the onset of fever, a distinctive rash appears, often starting on the face. Many conditions can cause rashes but the monkeypox rash has some unusual features, notably the fact that vesicles can form on the palms of the hands.
In countries where it is endemic, the virus is believed to mainly spread to people from infected animals when people kill or prepare bushmeat for consumption.
Once the virus jumps to people, human-to-human transmission can occur via respiratory droplets — virus-laced saliva that can infect the mucosal membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat — or by contact with monkeypox lesions or bodily fluids, with the virus entering through small cuts in the skin. It can also be transmitted by contact with clothing or linens contaminated with material from monkeypox lesions.
Cases outside of Africa have been rare, though there was a large outbreak in the United States in 2003 that involved 47 confirmed and probable cases in six states. That outbreak, the first reported from outside of Africa, was traced back to the importation of small mammals from Ghana.
However, in the past few years there has been small increases in exported monkeypox cases. The U.S. detected two in 2021, both in travelers who had returned from Nigeria. The U.K. has seen multiple importations in the past few years and Israel and Singapore have also detected cases.
McQuiston said the number of exported cases from Nigeria in particular appear to be at odds with the reported number of cases in the country itself.
“I think that we are concerned about the number of exported cases in travelers we’ve seen. And to have so many of them in the last few years is simply a flag to us that there’s a lot more monkeypox transmission happening in Nigeria than perhaps the [official] numbers would suggest,” she said.
“And I think it also is a flag to us that the more traditional routes of transmission that we think of such as hunting wild animals, contact with bushmeat, living at that interface between the jungle and small communities does not seem to be a driver of transmission in terms of what we see happening. And so that makes us cast a wider net about what risk factors might be.”
There is a vaccine that was licensed in the U.S. in 2019 for people 18 years of age and older to protect against smallpox and monkeypox, Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos. A second vaccine, ACAM2000 made by Emergent Product Development, protects against smallpox and is thought to offer some protection against monkeypox. Both vaccines are licensed only for people considered at high risk of contracting the disease. In the 2003 outbreak in the U.S., smallpox vaccine was used.
The U.S. holds supplies of the vaccines in the Strategic National Stockpile, a hedge against public health emergencies. “To combat a smallpox emergency, the SNS holds enough smallpox vaccine to vaccinate the entire U.S. population. In addition, the SNS has antiviral drugs that can be deployed to treat smallpox infections, if needed,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said via email.
The WHO’s Van Kerkhove noted that some of these products have been licensed using what is known as the animal rule, where animal efficacy data are used as a surrogate because the lack of circulating smallpox means the vaccines or drugs can’t be tested for efficacy in people. As a result, any such product could only be used in the context of a clinical trial, she said.
“There are options. We just have to make sure that they’re used appropriately. One of the things related to vaccines is we want to make sure if the vaccines are needed and used, they’re used among populations that need them the most. There’s not ample supply of anything right now,” she said.
Still, she expressed confidence the outbreak can be controlled.
“What we need to do right now is focus on stopping the spread. And we can do that. We can do that with the appropriate messaging, with the appropriate testing … with supportive isolation and clinical care as necessary, with protecting health workers,” Van Kerkhove said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed concern Tuesday about an unusual outbreak of monkeypox in the United Kingdom, suggesting there appears to be at least some undetected transmission of the virus there and warning of the possibility that the outbreak could spread beyond U.K. borders.
“We do have a level of concern that this is very different than what we typically think of from monkeypox. And I think we have some concern that there could be spread outside the U.K associated with this,” Jennifer McQuiston, a senior CDC official, told STAT in an interview.
Seven confirmed and one probable case of monkeypox have been discovered in the U.K. since early May — an unusually large number given that human monkeypox cases are uncommon, and are especially rare outside West and Central Africa. While one of the cases had recently traveled to Nigeria, where monkeypox is endemic, the others appear to have contracted the virus in the U.K. None of the people infected domestically has any known connections with the traveler and the timing of the onset of the cases suggest he was not the source of those infections.
Complicating the situation — and amplifying the concern — is the fact that the other cases comprise two distinct groups that have no discernible links to one other. Two of the confirmed cases and the single probable case are a family unit, Maria Van Kerkhove, a World Health Organization expert, said at a press conference on Tuesday. The other four confirmed cases, disclosed most recently, were identified by the U.K. Health Security Agency as gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men — three from London and a fourth from Newcastle, nearly 300 miles to the north. All four were likely infected in London, the agency said.
It is not known how any of these people contracted the virus. Transmission is thought to occur mainly through virus-laced droplets, but direct contact with lesions or bodily fluids from an infected person, or indirect contact via contaminated clothing or linens, can also result in transmission.
The fact that there are two apparently unconnected clusters suggests there may be more than one chain of transmission in the country, each of which could contain additional cases that haven’t yet been detected. Van Kerkhove, who leads the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit in the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said virus sequencing is underway in the U.K. to try to determine if the cases are genetically linked.
There is no suggestion that monkeypox is spreading to large numbers of people in the U.K. Still, the evidence that there are likely some undetected cases is fueling worry about how much transmission there may be there, and whether the virus has traveled further afield.
“You have two clusters that have no link to travel or to other people who are known to be associated with a recognized outbreak. It suggests that there are unknown chains of transmission happening,” McQuiston said. “If there appears to be unknown chains of transmission, it just puts us on alert to be thinking: Could this be spreading outside the U.K.?”
Although human monkeypox cases outside Africa are rare, in recent years there has been a spate of exported cases to the United States (two in 2021), the U.K., Israel, and Singapore. The four most recent cases were infected with the West African clade of monkeypox, which causes milder disease than the Central African clade, the UKHSA said.
Monkeypox has symptoms similar to but milder than smallpox, which was declared eradicated in 1980. In addition to flu-like symptoms, infection triggers a distinctive rash. Many conditions can cause rashes but the monkeypox rash has some unusual features, notably the fact that vesicles can form on the palms of the hands.
There is a vaccine that was licensed in the U.S. in 2019 for people 18 years of age and older to protect against smallpox and monkeypox, Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos. A second vaccine, ACAM2000 made by Emergent Product Development, protects against smallpox and is thought to offer some protection against monkeypox. But both vaccines are licensed only for people considered at high risk of contracting the disease. In a 2003 outbreak in the U.S. that involved 47 people, smallpox vaccine was used.
In Africa, monkeypox has been fatal in about 1 in 10 cases, with severe disease and death more likely among children.Trending Now:
Because of the discovery of cases among people who are gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men, public health authorities in the U.K. have alerted sexual health clinics to be on the lookout for people with unexplained rashes. McQuiston said the CDC is considering sending out a health alert to medical professions and sexually transmitted infection clinics in this country.
“There’s a lot of travel between the U.K. and the United States and other global areas. So I think our concern is that given that you do have four cases among men who have sex with men, that we probably need to be thinking about messaging to our STI clinics … about what to be on the lookout for, what to be alert for,” she said.
Van Kerkhove said the WHO has reached out to European countries through its Copenhagen-based European office to raise awareness of the risk of finding monkeypox cases.
Communications around the outbreak have to be crafted with care, McQuiston said.
“This is certainly a population that has been stigmatized for sexually transmitted infections like HIV in the past. And I think we have learned a bit from those experiences about how to approach this with the type of sensitivity it requires,” she said.
Public health investigators in the U.K. are working to trace who the confirmed cases were in contact with before they became ill, to try to find the source of their infections. But they’re also seeking to identify contacts of the infected to see if they have transmitted the virus to others.
McQuiston said to date the CDC has not been notified that any Americans have turned up on the UKHSA’s contact list for these cases. But she did reveal that six people in the United States are being monitored because they were on the same flight as the man who traveled from Nigeria to the U.K. on May 4. Though there’s no suggestion the individuals had direct contact with the man — they sat within a three-row radius of his seat — the six individuals will be monitored for 21 days, she said.
The U.K. outbreak is a reminder of the need to pay more attention to monkeypox, the disease dynamics of which are poorly understood, said Ibrahima Socé Fall, the WHO’s assistant director-general for emergency response.
“Clearly the main problem we need to investigate is really knowing the real extent of monkeypox transmission in Africa and making sure that we invest in tools for prevention and treatment for people who are the most exposed in Africa,” he said.