Monkeypox kills up to 10% of those infected, smallpox vaccine may stop it
LONDON (Reuters) - With monkeypox cases being reported in several countries, Britain is offering a smallpox vaccine to some healthcare workers and others who may have been exposed to the virus.
Monkeypox is a usually mild illness, characterised by symptoms of fever as well as a distinctive bumpy rash.
There are two main strains: the Congo strain, which is more severe – with up to 10 per cent mortality – and the West African strain, which has a fatality rate of about 1 per cent.
First identified in monkeys, the disease typically spreads through close contact and largely occurs in west and central Africa.
It has rarely spread elsewhere, so this fresh spate of cases outside the continent has triggered concern.
There isn’t a specific vaccine for monkeypox, but a smallpox vaccine does offer some protection, a UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) spokesman said.
Data shows that vaccines that were used to eradicate smallpox are up to 85 per cent effective against monkeypox, according to the World Health Organisation.
Some countries, including the United States, have large stockpiles of the smallpox vaccine as part of pandemic preparedness.
Copenhagen-based drugmaker Bavarian Nordic on Thursday (May 19) said it had secured a contract with an undisclosed European country to supply its smallpox vaccine, Imvanex.
Several monkeypox outbreaks in Africa have been contained during the Covid-19 pandemic while the world’s attention was elsewhere, Africa’s top public health agency said on Thursday.
“We are however concerned at the multiple countries outside, especially in Europe, that are seeing these outbreaks of monkeypox,” said the acting director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, said.
In Britain, the UKHSA has highlighted that the recent cases in the country were predominantly among men who have sex with men.
This unusual spike in cases outside of Africa could suggest a novel means of spread or a change in the virus, said Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California. “But this is all to be determined”.
This isn’t going to cause an epidemic, said Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “But it’s a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we should take it seriously.”