Monkeypox has been dominating the headlines of late – and as we continue to wrestle with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to see why the emergence of yet another strangely behaving contagious pathogen has people worried. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recently expressed that monkeypox behaving as it has recently “has not been seen before,” and now a second strain of the virus has been detected in the United States.
The potential discovery follows genetic analyses of infected people which revealed one strain that is believed to be the same currently circulating in Europe. However, they also revealed a second strain that hadn’t yet been identified from the 2022 outbreak. The findings could support suggestions that monkeypox has been circulating undetected for some time now, though further tests are needed to draw firm conclusions.
“I think it’s certainly possible that there could have been monkeypox cases in the United States that went under the radar previously, but not to any great degree,” said Jennifer McQuiston from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Aljazeera reports. “There could be community-level transmission that is happening.”
While the WHO has labeled the recent spread of monkeypox an “outbreak” the nature of the illness and how it spreads doesn’t yet suggest we are facing another pandemic of COVID-19 proportions. However, undetectable community spread (which may have been happening in the US) paints a tricky picture for managing the outbreak. Without contact tracing information, it’s difficult to know where monkeypox cases are happening and who needs to take precautions.
This includes limiting physical exposure to other people, as skin-to-skin contact or touching contaminated items such as clothing or bed sheets are both risk factors. This is why some media outlets have referenced sex as a risk factor for spread, but it’s important to note that monkeypox is not an STD/STI, and the distinction matters for several reasons.
Another misconception surrounding monkeypox is related to its name, as some people have wrongly suggested that because the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine contained a chimp adenovirus vector, this may have been the source of the outbreak. Firstly, vectors are inactivated forms of pathogens that can’t replicate to launch an infection, and the adenovirus is a totally different virus family to monkeypox.
Monkeypox also doesn’t come from monkeys (it’s actually found in small animals such as rodents) and chimps aren’t even monkeys, they’re apes. In short, leave the vaccines out of it.
If you’re concerned you might have any of the symptoms of monkeypox, it’s best to contact your healthcare provider for local advice.