New Delhi: Since its first confirmation in London on May 12 last year, many monkeypox cases have been reported worldwide. Noticeably, the epidemiology, pathology and clinical features of the current emergence have been compared to those of smallpox, a severe contagious disease historically epidemic worldwide for nearly 3,000 years.
According to researchers, some characteristics of the present outbreak differed from those of previous monkeypox outbreaks, considering if this emergence of monkeypox could cause another global pandemic similar to smallpox or influenza or if it is only the re-emergence of a new strain.
Since May 2022, an outbreak of monkeypox quickly spread, and more than 20,000 confirmed cases have been reported in several countries in Europe, America, Oceania, Asia and Africa.
Would it be another global pandemic similar to smallpox or influenza?
“Further observation is needed; although notable features like accelerated evolutions, new-emerging variants, transmission through close contact, the rapid expansion of confirmed cases in several countries, and limited anti-MPXV specific agents in clinics, the susceptible population are mainly limited to homosexuals,” according to the paper published in Biosafety and Health.
Following a series of consultations with global experts, the WHO has given a new preferred term “mpox” as a synonym for monkeypox.
Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while “monkeypox” is phased out.
Meanwhile, an obscure family of viruses, already endemic in wild African primates and known to cause fatal Ebola-like symptoms in some monkeys, is “poised for spillover” to humans, according to new University of Colorado Boulder research published online in the journal Cell.
While such arteriviruses are already considered a critical threat to macaque monkeys, no human infections have been reported to date. And it is uncertain what impact the virus would have on people should it jump species.
However, by watching for arteriviruses now, in both animals and humans, the global health community could potentially avoid another pandemic, they said.
“This animal virus has figured out how to gain access to human cells, multiply itself, and escape some of the important immune mechanisms we would expect to protect us from an animal virus. That’s pretty rare,” said senior author Sara Sawyer, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at CU Boulder. “We should be paying attention to it.”
There are thousands of unique viruses circulating among animals around the globe, most of them causing no symptoms. In recent decades, increasing numbers have jumped to humans, wreaking havoc on naive immune systems with no experience fighting them off: That includes Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in 2003, and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) in 2020.
Like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and its precursor simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), simian arteriviruses also appear to attack immune cells, disabling key defense mechanisms and taking hold in the body long-term.
The authors, however, stressed that another pandemic is not imminent, and the public need not be alarmed.
But they do suggest that the global health community prioritise further study of simian arteriviruses, develop blood antibody tests for them, and consider surveillance of human populations with close contact to animal carriers.
“Covid is just the latest in a long string of spillover events from animals to humans, some of which have erupted into global catastrophes,” Sawyer said.
“Our hope is that by raising awareness of the viruses that we should be looking out for, we can get ahead of this so that if human infections begin to occur, we’re on it quickly.”