Monkey pox shows dramatic rise in Africa

Rates of human monkeypox, a virus related to smallpox, have risen dramatically in the rural Democratic Republic of Congo, with minor outbreaks seen in other African nations and even in the United States.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles say that the end of smallpox and the smallpox vaccine have allowed monkeypox to thrive. Anne Rimoin, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health, and her colleagues, reported their findings in the latest online edition on Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, according to HomelandSecurityNewswire.com.

Until 1980, the use of the smallpox vaccine also provided cross-protective immunity against monkeypox. After the eradication of smallpox, the vaccine was considered unnecessary and its use was stopped. As a result, monkeypox can successfully infect the human population in larger numbers.

Little is known about the disease. It is a zoonotic orthopoxvirus, meaning it can move from animals to humans, and its symptoms include severe eruptions on the skin, fever, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, possible blindness and death, HomelandSecurityNewswire.com reports. Though it is named monkeypox, it usually affects rodents. There is no known treatment.

“All you can do is provide supportive care,” Rimoin said to HomelandSecurityNewswire.com. “There are no antibiotics. If you survive, the illness eventually runs its course.”

The end of smallpox vaccination meant that new generations of people who were vaccine naïve were exposed to the disease. The number of monkeypox victims increased, but with little or no health infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other nations where monkeypox struck, there was no way to monitor its growth.

Rimoin’s work shows that monkeypox infection, once thought to be rare, is actually quite common, HomelandSecurityNewswire.com reports. The results were startling. There has been, according to Romoin and her colleagues, a 20-fold increase in human monkeypox since smallpox vaccination ended in 1980.

In 2003, there was a minor outbreak of monkeypox in the United States. That year, 93 people contracted the disease in the midwest after a pet store sold infected prairie dogs.

It is unlikely that smallpox vaccinations will resume, so Rimoin is calling for better health care education and surveillance in the areas where outbreaks occur.