Researchers Warn of Mutant Monkeypox Strain with ‘Pandemic Potential’, Discovered in Congo Village

2024-04-16 18:20:49

At the end of last year, I reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that a more infectious mpox (i.e., the rebranded monkeypox) virus strain had been found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was spreading, and had a higher infection fatality rate than previous strains of the virus that had spread during 2022’s “Monkeypox Emergency“.

Last month, the World Health Organization (who) sounded the alarm about the DRC mpox outbreak.

Now researchers, who have studied the strain, are warning that it has ‘pandemic potential”.

The virus is a descendent of the deadlier clade 1 mpox strain, but has evolved to become even more infectious and better at evading tests than its predecessor.

The concerning discovery was made in Kamituga – a poor, densely populated gold mining town that is feared to be ripe for an explosive outbreak. So far there have been 108 cases.

Researchers who detailed the virus in a pre-print have called for ‘urgent measures’ to contain the virus and avoid a global outbreak.

‘Without intervention, this localised Kamituga outbreak harbors the potential to spread nationally and internationally,’ the authors wrote.

The study was published by medrxiv, and is a pre-print that has not been certified by peer review. However, the research tean’s findings about the virus being primarily transmitted through sexual activity is consistent with the transmission mode associated with the 2022 outbreak.

The Kamituga mpox outbreak spread rapidly, with 241 suspected cases reported within 5 months of the first reported case. Of 108 confirmed cases, 29% were sex workers, highlighting sexual contact as a key mode of infection. Genomic analysis revealed a distinct MPXV Clade Ib [i.e., the new strain] lineage, divergent from previously sequenced Clade I strains in DRC.

Predominance of APOBEC3-type mutations and estimated time of emergence around mid-September 2023 suggest recent human-to-human transmission.

The team expressed concern that the mobility of the population will led to the spread of this particular strain and assert it is a “global issue”.

“This is not just a Congo-centric issue, this is not just a sub Saharan Africa issue, this is a global issue. As we saw in May 2022, we’re all interlinked.”

The pre-print warns that the “local healthcare infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle a large-scale epidemic”, and calls for urgent action – including surveillance, contact tracing and targeted vaccinations – to halt the spread of the new stain.

It says there is a “substantial risk of outbreak escalation beyond the current area and across borders” because the mutations have emerged within a “highly mobile” population.

People, including miners and sex workers, frequently travel to Kamituga work, including from nearby Rwanda and Burundi.

The strain that WHO was warning about was reported to lead to the death of approximately 4.6% of those who were infected. The research paper indicates 2 of 148 patients died, for an approximate Infection Fatality rate of 1.4%

In a nutshell: As troubling as these developments are, it appears that measures related to the stopping the spread of sexually transmitted diseases will be effective with this new strain.

Given that the latest bird flu should really be called Low Pathogenic Bovine Influenza, the quest for the election-impacting, bureaucracy-supporting “Disease X” continues.


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Researchers Warn of Mutant Monkeypox Strain with ‘Pandemic Potential’, Discovered in Congo Village


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