New Mutant ‘Pandemic-Potential’ Strains Of Monkeypox Virus Triggers ‘Sustained Outbreak’: Study Preprint

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John Oyewale Contributor
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An international group of scientists warned of a sustained outbreak of monkeypox caused by a mutant group of monkeypox virus strains, according to a study preprint posted Monday.

The monkeypox outbreak began last October in the Kamitunga mining region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with 108 confirmed cases within the region since the index case emerged, according to the study. Sex workers comprised 29% of the confirmed cases, “highlighting sexual contact as a key mode of infection,” the study revealed.

An emergent, distinct group of the monkeypox virus with a peculiar kind of gene mutation that signified “recent human-to-human transmission” and possessed pandemic potential was responsible for the outbreak, the scientists said in the study.

The gene that mutated also exists in over 70% of all cancer types, especially breast and bladder cancers, according to an unrelated study on human cancer.

Most of the cases in the current outbreak throughout the DRC were linked to the already existing monkeypox virus, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) reported in a separate but related study earlier this month. There were 4,488 reported cases in DRC in the first quarter of 2024, according to the study. Approximately 319 of those cases were confirmed and 279 deaths were reported.

The case fatality ratio (CFR) — a measure of the severity of the disease indicating the proportion of deaths among diagnosed patients — stood at 6.7%, the ECDC study showed. By comparison, the CFR for COVID-19 stood at 0.05% to 0.5%, similar to seasonal influenza, and down from the initial 1.7% to 39.0% in February and March 2020, according to a study published in January 2023. (RELATED: State Confirms First Death From Newly Discovered Viral Disease Related To Smallpox)

MPXV first arrived in the U.S. in 2003 via a shipment of rodents imported from Ghana and jumped into pet prairie dogs before infecting their human owners, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reported two travel-associated cases in 2021. A global outbreak occurred in 2022, with about a third of the 94,274 known global cases identified in the U.S., according to the CDC.

“During the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, the main route of transmission has been through sexual contact, primarily affecting gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men and transgender women,” CDC experts warned.

The current outbreak in the DRC is the country’s largest monkeypox outbreak on record but is not known to have reached the U.S., according to the CDC. “The risk to the general public in the U.S. from the type of monkeypox circulating in the DRC is low” and previous monkeypox infection or vaccination should protect the U.S. from the DRC monkeypox strains, the CDC added.  

The monkeypox outbreak study, conducted by scientists working in the U.S., Congo, Nigeria, Belgium, Canada, South Africa and France, awaits peer review but was released as a preprint to foster immediate conversations among other scientists as review processes are often lengthy, according to the health sciences preprint database medRxiv which hosts the study.

Preprints “have not been finalized by authors, might contain errors, and report information that has not yet been accepted or endorsed in any way by the scientific or medical community,” according to the database.

The scientists recommended urgent public health measures to curb the outbreak.