Monkeypox is detected in Australia. But it could have been there for years

The monkeypox virusnow diagnosed in hundreds of people in 26 countries, may have been circulating quietly for years before its sudden emergence around the world, scientists have speculated.

Infectious disease experts and scientists in genetics labs are urgently looking for clues as to why a virus that has been found in West Africa for half a century and usually does not spread easily from person to person to Another has made such a dramatic and disturbing appearance in the past month.

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“There may have been undetected transmission for some time,” Rosamund Lewis, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for monkeypox, said during a briefing last week.

“What we don’t know is how long it lasted. We don’t know if it’s weeks, months or maybe a few years.

At the University of Leuven in Belgium, virology professor Marc Van Ranst said his lab’s sequencing revealed genetic mutations in the virus that were “limited” and “none of them are irrefutable proof” .

“Everyone is interested in more complete genomes to get a sense of a pretty big question: How long have these viruses been circulating under the radar?” said Van Ranst.

“I don’t think anyone believes it jumped out of Africa a few weeks ago.”

Monkeypox virus symptoms on a patient’s hand. Credit: Getty Images/Getty Images

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh recently sequenced samples from the outbreak and published their results on May 30.

The samples they investigated descended from a version of monkeypox identified in Singapore, Israel, Nigeria and the UK between 2017 and 2019.

Although investigators have identified an “unexpected number” of changes in the genetic code of the virus since then, some experts do not believe these changes necessarily explain the scale of the current outbreak.

In Africa, most human cases of monkeypox have historically occurred through exposure to infected animals such as rodents and not through person-to-person transmission.

Examples of appearance of monkeypox lesions.
Examples of appearance of monkeypox lesions. Credit: UK Health Security Agency

“What probably happened was that an infectious disease endemic to Africa found its way into a social and sexual network and then was greatly aided by major amplifying events like raves in Belgium for spread around the world,” Amesh Adalja, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said.

“Because it is transmitted through close contact during sexual encounters, many lesions are mistaken for other sexually transmitted infections, which can delay diagnosis.”

Increased vigilance by public health authorities, healthcare providers and individuals around the world has dramatically improved detection in recent weeks.

Stealth Traffic

“Any time you start looking for a disease that’s new to a population, you find many, many more cases,” said David Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who previously led the program at the WHO on emerging diseases and other communicable diseases. told NBC News.

Heymann supported the theory that the disease may have been present in some populations for several years outside the 11 countries in central and west Africa where the virus has become endemic.

Cases may be circulating stealthily among people outside the global gay community, he suggested.

“The concern is with a single population rather than looking more broadly,” he said.

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