The growing monkeypox outbreak may seem alarming to people — possibly bringing back bad memories of COVID’s rapid spread around the world — but it doesn’t carry the same level of threat as a pandemic, Axios experts say.
The big picture: How monkeypox is spreading around the world — with nine confirmed U.S. cases so far — is “new and certainly worrisome,” but the virus isn’t behaving entirely unexpectedly, says CDC smallpox virus epidemiology team leader Andrea McCollum.
- “This is definitely not like COVID. … We’re still within a framework where this is controllable,” McCollum told Axios.
- “People see these cases popping up on multiple continents every day, and it feels a lot like the early days of COVID,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center in Brown University’s School of Public Health.
- But “what has made COVID so incredibly challenging is the fact that people could be infected and not know about it and then pass it on to others – it’s much less likely to happen with this virus,” says Nuzzo.
What’s happening: Monkeypox patients typically develop flu-like symptoms and a blistering rash.
- But first reports on how this load affects the body are a little unusual — and that’s always a bit of a concern, says David Freedman, president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. People report that when an infection starts, they don’t feel as sick as normal and the blistering rash may not spread as much over the body.
- “There’s a bit of a mystery about that and why they’re doing all this genetic sequencing to see if there’s anything unique about this particular strain of the virus,” Freedman adds. More definitive genetic knowledge will take at least a few weeks, he adds.
- Another unusual aspect is that most of these recent cases have been linked to sexual contact during mass gatherings or festivals, with more reports of genital lesions than previous outbreaks, Nuzzo says.
Between the lines: Some symptoms might be unusual, but the way the virus spreads between people is “very consistent with what we know about monkeypox,” McCollum says. It is transmitted through close, prolonged contact with an infected person. “I don’t know if we would say it spreads more effectively [than normal] in relation to virus transmission.”
- Lesions are usually the biggest concern, McCollum says, since they’re “packed with the virus” and remain contagious at all stages, even after a scab falls off. A closely related virus, smallpox, has shown that under certain conditions, scabs can contain viruses living for 13 years or more.
- The “greater risk to the wider community is extraordinarily small,” and respiratory transmission isn’t considered the primary mode of transmission, but McCollum says “COVID precautions make a lot of sense for a lot of things,” e.g. B. Wearing a mask and not sharing clothing or bedding.
Be smart: The scientific knowledge about monkeypox is relatively small. “The number of cases documented in the literature since the 1970s is in the several thousand,” says Freedman.
- And the COVID pandemic has taught us all that viruses can change quickly.
- “I’m on Team Cautious,” Virginia Tech aerosol expert Linsey Marr recently told The Atlantic. “We cannot use what has happened in previous monkeypox outbreaks to make blanket statements. If we have learned anything from COVID it is humility.”
What’s next: It is not known when the spread will be contained and when the number of cases is expected to fall, although doctors’ awareness has been raised.
- According to McCollum, the US plans to work with other countries to collect fine-scale data that will allow forecasting models to “get a better sense of what we should expect going forward and when we’ll start seeing numbers going down instead of going up.” .
- Patients are expected to remain in isolation for three weeks and efforts should be made to trace contacts and possibly give smallpox vaccinations to those who are directly exposed and most at risk.
- The CDC plans to begin tracking U.S. cases and updating them daily on its website soon, McCollum says.