As the total number of monkeypox cases worldwide climbs into the hundreds, scientists have said the disease could have spread undetected for weeks, months or years before the first cases outside of Africa were reported in this year’s outbreak.
Since the outbreak began on May 13 this year (through June 2), 780 confirmed cases of monkeypox have now been reported, with at least 27 World Health Organization (WHO) member states reporting cases, including the United States and Canada.
Research is ongoing to find out more about why monkeypox is spreading to countries where it doesn’t normally occur – the disease is endemic in African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, where there are thousands of cases every year reported.
However, in an outbreak update released last week, the WHO said the “sudden and unexpected” spread of monkeypox in several non-endemic countries suggested that “there may have been undetected transmission for an unknown period of time that followed.” of Recent Reinforcement Events”.
Rosamund Lewis, WHO’s chief technical officer for monkeypox, said during a briefing last Wednesday that this undetected transmission could go on for “weeks, months or possibly a few years”.
Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told NBC News this past weekend, “What probably happened is that an endemic infectious disease from Africa found its way into a social and sexual network and then Major has been heavily backed by reinforcement events like raves in Belgium to spread them around the world.”
Adalja added that the skin tags associated with monkeypox are mistaken for other sexually transmitted infections, which could delay diagnosis.
Meanwhile, scientists are working to better understand whether there may have been a genetic modification to the virus that may have allowed it to spread outside of Africa more effectively than before.
Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus of the same name that was first found in monkeys kept for animal experiments in 1958. The first human case was discovered in 1970.
The symptoms of the disease are similar but milder than smallpox. The incubation period – the interval between infection and symptoms – is usually six to 13 days.
According to the WHO, the symptoms usually begin with fever, headaches, other body aches, swelling of the lymph nodes and lack of energy. A rash appears within a day or few of the fever and can affect different parts of the body.
Symptoms usually last two to four weeks. Historically, the mortality rate from monkeypox in the general population has ranged from zero to 11 percent, but more recently it has been around 3 to 6 percent.
Monkeypox can spread between people through direct contact with infectious wounds, scabs, or body fluids. It can also be spread through prolonged face-to-face contact and sex, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It’s not known if it can spread through semen or vaginal fluid.
The disease can also be transmitted from animals to humans, for example through a bite or scratch or through handling wild animals. Visit the CDC’s website for more information on the transfer.
The current and ongoing outbreak marks the first time that many cases of monkeypox have been reported simultaneously in non-endemic countries around the world. Previous cases have mainly, but not exclusively, involved men who have had sex with men.