“MonkeyPOX” – another zoonosis – facts worth knowing

August 5, 2022: We are interrupting our current series on lessons learnt from COVID-19

Started in February 2020, the SAJO blog is providing a thread through the pandemic with up-to-date information to present pandemics and infectious diseases.

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Dear readers,

Recently, we have been asked quite often about the “monkeypox” that lately came to circulate in the US and Europe. Hence, a little digression to that topic.

First, we have to tell you that this name really is a misnomer. The virus did not have its origins in monkeys. The name has historical reasons: The first human case was found in a person who had handled monkeys that had been imported to the US from Africa. These monkeys had contracted the virus from rodents. This last point is important, it will be of concern. In short, this virus simply was christened the wrong name; its name will change in the upcoming months.

The disease in most cases does not lead to severe illness or death, but it may be very painful and disfiguring.

The virus is infecting every human being it gets its hands on, irrespective of sexual orientation. It is NOT a sexually transmitted disease.

The virus is being transmitted through close physical contact or through fomites, laundry such as bed sheets and towels, but also clothes. Even the shaking of contaminated clothes, towels, linen is a way to contract the virus.

The main super spreading events so far had been parties and events with numerous people coming into close physical contact. This of course includes orgies and other sexually centered events.

The virus is spreading silently. Unfortunately, it has the capacity to become a pandemic. Not as explosive as COVID-19, which is spread through aerosols. But there are other pandemic examples of pathogens that spread slowly, such as the notorious human immunodeficiency virus. Everyone by now knows how to protect themselves from HIV, yet nevertheless there are new infections on a daily basis in Europe. One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us (for more see our series: https://www.sajo-innovation.de/blog/lessons-learned-from-the-covid-19-pandemic-part-1/) is that the knowledge of the transmission pathway does not have any influence on individual behavior. Condoms are protecting from transmission of (not just) HIV, masks are protecting (nut just) from a SARS-CoV-2 infection. Is this information being used to protect oneself (and others)? Not really, as we see. Thus, we consider the “monkeypox” a potential health threat.

This electron microscopic (EM) image depicted a monkeypox virion, obtained from a clinical sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. It was a thin section image from of a human skin sample. On the left were mature, oval-shaped virus particles, and on the right were the crescents, and spherical particles of immature virions.
Source: CDC/CYNTHIA S. GOLDSMITH/SCIENCE SOURCE

Every single infection event is giving the virus an opportunity to change. With this “new” virus, there comes yet another component: The fact that this virus originally comes from rodents is worrying us. It means that the virus is capable to spread IN RODENTS outside of Africa, too.

The more people are infected, the greater the chance for the virus to ultimately reach a rodent as a host. This would be the moment when the virus cannot be eliminated in Europe. This is the reason why the outbreaks need to be contained immediately.

In the US, the threat has been realized. Several cities (among them San Francisco and New York) have declared the virus a ”public health emergency” to point out the seriousness of the situation and to provide funds for fighting the virus spread.

For Africa this (yet again) comes too late. We understand the anger of our African colleagues about the WHO. The WHO labelled the virus a global threat only after infection numbers increased in the US and Europe. Once again, the “global community” reacted late or not at all. This scheme sounds familiar. With climate change that has been warned from since the 1970s, it is the same.

How to protect yourself and others?

  1. Those infected should stay at home, at least until the rash has disappeared. The pustules contain huge numbers of virus and are highly contagious. This includes dropped crusts.
  2. A household with an infected person should stick to a strict hygiene. Soap is inactivating the virus. Used towels, linen and others need to be washed at 95 °C or disinfected chemically.
  3. Numbers 1 and 2 also go for public institutions, public transportation, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools, childcare, gyms, barber shops, clubs. Wherever many people are gathering. This would help in general to reduce any pathogen transmission.
  4. It goes without further explanation that used and cleaned laundry need to be kept and transported separately. We are thinking of backpacks and suitcases of travelers.
  5. Try and avoid localities where many people in close spaces are (willingly or unwillingly) coming into close physical contact.
  6. Act accordingly: Adjust your welcome rituals in epidemic times. This includes to avoid hugging friends and acquaintances. We expand this even to the cheek-to-cheek-society. As we said, the virus is spreading via skin contact.
  7. For now, we advice to avoid a lifestyle with changing sex partners. Transmission occurs much easier through skin contact than for classical sexually transmitted diseases (STD) such as HIV/AIDS.

At the moment, the classical variola vaccination is protecting from the disease. Those born before or during the 1970s will carry the signature scar on their upper arm.

The newly developed vaccines do protect, but they are in short supply. Therefore, our advice to offer vaccines in areas and communities that are haunted by the virus. Conversely, anyone who realizes the virus spreading in their setting, hence may contact their physician and public health department. In both cases we expect an open mind in these institutions.

Thus, the spread of this virus may be contained even with little vaccine delivered at maximum efficiency.

Stay alert, active, and informed!

By the way: Today’s background is adorned with the wonderful blossoms (this year five in total!) of a cactus that Joerg had inherited from his father. We are calling this special cactus the “Daddy-cactus” – a wonderful memento of a wonderful and well-respected person, who, just as his son does, had a strong interest in biology.

Yours, Joerg and Sabine

Dr. Sabine Breun and Dr. Joerg Baumann, both PhDs, virologists, immunologists and founders of SAJO. Both are specialized in infectious diseases. Since the 90s, Dr. Baumann has been working on zoonoses and how pathogens overcome the species barrier. Since 2000, Dr. Breun works on the interaction of viruses with the immune system. Both work as team. SAJO enables new antivirals – antivirals of the next generation to fight pandemics.
During their scientific carreers, both performed scientific work for 5 years at the National Cancer Institute in a US elite program on competitive US scholarships.

SAJO – for a healthy and better future!

SAJO is consulting all around infectious diseases. We are applying our know-how, that we have acquired in more than 20 years. We do what we can to fight this pandemic.

This is post No. 228. To our delight our blog is receiving a lot of acceptance, we love to share our know-how and expertise. Please feel free to share the link – it is an informative tool to fight this pandemic. We would appreciate, if our German colleagues in medicine and politics cited us when retrieving information from here.

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