Monkeypox – a zoonotic disease

‘If we have allowed monkeypox to become an endemic virus in the U.S. … it will be among the most unfortunate public health failures in recent times.’

Declan Garvey and Esther Eaton, The Dispatch
BROOKLYN, NYC, US, October 1 2013: Street art in Brooklyn. Old paper billboard saying welcome to New York, with scary drawings of mouse, roaches and pigeon. New York, US.

As monkeypox continues to spread both within and between countries, it is worth reminding that it is a zoonotic disease.

In parts of Africa, where monkeypox outbreaks are much more frequent, the virus appears to persist in other mammal populations. Although it was first discovered in a monkey (hence the name), rodents are thought to be a more likely reservoir.

Monkeypox is not as infectious as COVID-19 and not as dangerous as smallpox. It currently spreads largely in an MSM community (men having Sex with Men), but it is properly not a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD).

Rather, it spreads through close personal contact, mainly through skin contact. Hence, there have been cases among women and children.

It is disappointing that we did not manage to stop it early. Unlike COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2), monkeypox is not a new disease, it does not spread very fast and easily, we do have relatively safe and sterilising vaccines, and we know how to use them.

Monkeypox has been spreading in a relatively limited network with only sporadic breakthroughs to the general population. Although the long incubation period makes contact tracing somewhat problematic, it would not have been difficult to implement “ring” vaccination.

Once monkeypox becomes established in the ubiquitous rodent population, it will be almost impossible to eradicate. The risk to humans might not be very high,

Is there still a chance to stop it? Yes, but (as with COVID-19) it needs a swift action built on trust with the affected community. We must make sure that we work with the MSM community and not against them.

We must not end up stigmatising the infection but rather encouraging those most at risk to take appropriate actions.