Scientists have warned that the number of monkeypox cases is likely to climb this week as more sick persons are identified by health officials.
More than 90 cases have already been documented in Europe, the United States, and Australia, with 20 of them occurring in the United Kingdom.
The World Health Organization reported 28 further suspected cases, in addition to the 92 confirmed in 12 member countries where the virus was not prevalent. The global figure is extraordinary for a disease that is typically found in central and western Africa.
Monkeypox does not pass easily between humans, therefore experts have been perplexed by the outbreak and the simultaneous appearance of patients on multiple continents. Only close physical contact – including sexual intercourse – may spread the virus from person to person.
Symptoms are often moderate – headaches, aching muscles, and weariness – but monkeypox can also produce skin lesions, which can get infected and result in secondary diseases.
“I am confident that we will see other cases,” said Charlotte Hammer, a Cambridge University researcher on emerging illnesses. “First, health officials are now actively seeking for instances, so we are more likely to find patients with mild illnesses that we would have overlooked or misdiagnosed earlier.”
“In addition, because monkeypox has an incubation period of one to three weeks, we are expected to find further infections among persons who had early contact with the outbreak’s first cases.”
Monkeypox has been identified outside of Africa in the past, but the current outbreak is unprecedented in terms of the volume and variety of cases.
“Essentially, we have two choices,” Hammer explained. “Either the virus is different now, or our sensitivity to it has altered.” Alternatively, we may have just experienced a perfect storm of conditions that permitted the virus to propagate in this manner. “I believe the latter option is more plausible.”
One hypothesis is that the effects of previous bulk smallpox vaccines are wearing off, leaving fewer individuals immune to the similarly related monkeypox.
Prof Keith Neal of Nottingham University, on the other hand, remarked, “Has the virus changed? It does not appear to be any more deadly, albeit its transmissibility may have been impaired. Remember, this is a DNA virus, and it is unlikely to change at the same rate as RNA viruses, such as ones that cause Covid or HIV. Overall, I’m not concerned.”