Victory over smallpox may lead to more pox viruses

With cases of monkeypox are now raging in parts of Africa, University of California researchers say the world’s victory over smallpox may have had consequences.

In a study recently published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the California researchers, along with researchers from the Kinshasa School of Public Health, have concluded that monkeypox was 20 times as common in parts of Africa as it was 30 years ago, when the smallpox vaccination was discontinued, the New York Times reports.

“Our study is a great warning bell that we will see more pox viruses emerging in humans,” Anne W. Rimoin, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times.

Although usually less serious, monkeypox is closely related to smallpox. Researchers, however, have noted that monkeypox can also kill, blind or scar its victims in rare cases. While monkeypox is much less likely to jump from person to person, researchers have found that human-to-human transmission is greater than originally thought.

In the study, the New York Times reports, the researchers surveyed nine rural Congo health districts, finding that the typical victims were males aged 10 to 14. Researchers believe this is because males this age in the region often hunt monkeys and different rodents, which can carry the disease.

The smallpox vaccine was only 80 percent effective in preventing monkeypox. The use of the smallpox vaccine to treat monkeypox was debated in the 1970’s. Because of the risks involved with the vaccine, however, it was not used.

Approximately 90 Americans caught monkeypox from pet prairie dogs in 2003. Those infected caught it from Gambian pouched rats imported by a pet store. No one died. The government, however, banned imports of African rodents.