The coronavirus pandemic has yet to be firmly tucked into the history books even as a new health threat emerges: monkeypox, a rare infectious virus that has suddenly become more prevalent in Europe and is now being detected in North America.
Should people be concerned that a new health crisis is suddenly percolating? The answer, it seems, is both yes and no.
A Brief History: Monkeypox is related to smallpox, but it is far less serious. It was first identified in 1958 in laboratory monkeys in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the first known cases were confirmed in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1970.
Human infections were limited to central and western Africa until 2003, when the first non-African outbreak was recorded in the U.S. in 2003. The source was traced to imported rodents from Ghana sold in pet stores. The outbreak infected 47 people, all of whom overcame their illness.
Reasons For Concern: A new wave of monkeypox infections is now occurring, with Reuters reporting more than 100 cases in Europe; infections were also confirmed in Australia. The first confirmed European infection was reported on May 7 involving a man who traveled from Nigeria to England.
Twenty of the confirmed U.K. cases and 14 cases in Portugal involved men who self-identified as LGBTQ, although health officials are not declaring that monkeypox has become a sexually transmitted disease. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined the virus can spread through contact with body fluids as well as respiratory droplets and contaminated objects.
The New York Post reported a U.S. case was confirmed earlier this week in Massachusetts who recently traveled to Canada, where more than 15 suspected cases are being probed in and around Montreal. The New York Times NYT reported a patient who might have monkeypox infection is now in isolation at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital.
Reasons For Calm: Signs of monkeypox include fever and body aches followed by a rash of red bumps that become pus-filled blisters which crust over. The new wave of infections has not resulted in any deaths.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that it was monitoring the rising level of infections, stating the situation “is evolving rapidly.”
The CDC approved the use of the antiviral drug Jynneos from the Danish biotech company Bavarian Nordic BVNRY as a monkeypox treatment in 2015. The vaccine can also treat smallpox. In the wake of confirmation of the Massachusetts infection, the U.S. government has ordered 13 million additional doses of Jynneos for $119 million, with the option to buy $180 million more.
“While the full circumstances around the current monkeypox cases in Europe remain to be elucidated, the speed of which these have evolved, combined with the potential for infections beyond the initial case going undetected, calls for a rapid and coordinated approach by the health authorities, and we are pleased to assist in this emergency situation,” said Paul Chaplin, president and CEO of Bavarian Nordic, in a statement.
Photo: A 1971 photograph of a four-year-old Liberian girl infected with monkeypox, courtesy of the CDC/Wikimedia Commons
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