Fears grow over monkeypox ‘mutations’

New research has revealed a disturbing clue as to why monkeypox cases have spread so quickly around the globe in recent months.

Alarming new research has revealed that monkeypox seems to be mutating much faster than experts had anticipated as it spreads.

That factor could help to explain why the current strain is proving to be more transmissible than what has been seen in previous outbreaks.

According to a new Portuguese study published in Nature Medicine this week, scientists found the current strain – which was previously limited to parts of Africa – has around 50 genetic variations.

Co-author Joao Paulo Gomes from the National Institute of Health in Lisbon said the outbreak was “caused by a virus that presents [many] more mutations than we could expect for this type of virus”.

“It was quite unexpected to find so many mutations in the 2022 monkeypox virus,” he said,

“In fact, considering the genome characteristics of this type of virus, no more than one or two mutations are likely to emerge each year.”

But this time around, the monkeypox strain has about 50 genetic variations.

Monkeypox was previously confined to parts of Africa, but has now spread to 48 nations across the globe, with the first cases also confirmed in Australia last month.

WHO’s emergency meeting

The news comes as the World Health Organisation’s emergency committee prepares to announce whether it will declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, with the World Health Network declaring monkeypox to be a pandemic earlier this week.

So far, the WHO has confirmed 3200 monkeypox cases and one death as part of the latest outbreak, with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus this week confirming the need for greater surveillance as the potential crisis unfolds.

“Person-to-person transmission is ongoing and is likely underestimated,” Dr Tedros said at a recent meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee.

What is monkeypox?

Belonging to the same family as smallpox, the world’s first human monkeypox case was discovered in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The virus spreads through the body via the bloodstream, with symptoms typically appearing one or two weeks after infection.

Symptoms may include skin lesions as well as flu-like symptoms such as fevers, headaches and shortness of breath.

Thankfully, the smallpox vaccine can provide protection for both illnesses.

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health website, “People who have recently returned from overseas, or who have been in contact with a case in Australia, and who develop any of these symptoms, should seek medical advice immediately”.

Infants, young children, pregnant women and people who are immunocompromised are more at risk of developing severe disease.

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