Research shows monkeypox mutates rapidly as it spreads

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

Alarming new research has found that monkeypox appears to be mutating much faster than experts expected as it spreads.

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

According to a new Portuguese study published this week in Nature Medicine, scientists found that the current species — previously restricted to parts of Africa — has about 50 genetic variations.

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

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

“In fact, given the genome characteristics of this type of virus, probably no more than one or two mutations per year will appear.”

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

Monkeypox was previously limited to parts of Africa but has now spread to 48 countries around the world, with the first cases also confirmed in Australia last month.

WHO’s emergency meeting

The news comes as the World Health Organization’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 a pandemic earlier this week.

So far, the WHO has confirmed 3,200 cases of monkey pox and one death as part of the latest outbreak, with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus this week confirming the need for more surveillance as the potential crisis unfolds.

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

What is monkey pox?

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

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

Symptoms can include skin lesions, as well as flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and shortness of breath.

Fortunately, the smallpox vaccine can protect against both diseases.

According to the Australian Department of Health website, “People who have recently returned from abroad 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 with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of developing serious disease.

Originally published as Fears Grow as Research Discovers Monkeypox Mutates Rapidly as It Spreads