Officials also worry about diminishing smallpox vaccinations, which offered people protection against the infectious disease
Monkeypox challenges from the current outbreak have dogged public health agencies even though the disease was first identified more than 50 years ago. That is because the virus has found new avenues of infection. These developments will be relevant for the nation’s clinical laboratories, which are often the first healthcare providers to confirm a suspected case is positive for monkeypox and notify a public health laboratory about the positive test result.
The latest monkeypox numbers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that, as of September 6, the US has identified 19,962 cases in the 2022 outbreak, while worldwide the case number is 52,037.
In “When It Comes to Monkeypox Testing, Clinical Laboratories Should Be Aware of Five Significant Developments,” Dark Daily wrote about steps being taken to identify and control infections in America as well as trends in medical laboratory testing for monkeypox. This included reports of phlebotomists refusing to draw monkeypox blood samples and how social stigma surrounding the disease can affect who gets a medical laboratory test.
And in “Medical Laboratories Respond to Monkeypox Outbreak Using CDC-Developed Diagnostic Test,” we wrote how medical laboratories in the US are ramping up their efforts to respond to monkeypox and about a CDC-developed test designed to detect Orthopoxviruses, the family that includes the monkeypox virus.
Workers at clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups will gain from understanding why monkeypox has spread beyond its traditional geography.
“Monkeypox symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, and body aches that result in red bumps on hands, feet, mouth, and genitals,” Bodhraj Acharya, PhD (above), of the Laboratory Alliance of Central New York, told Dark Daily. “It spreads by close contact, respiratory droplets, lesions, and bodily fluids.” Clinical laboratories engaged in testing for monkeypox will want to stay alert to patients presenting with such symptoms. (Photo copyright: Laboratory Alliance of Central New York.)
African Public Health Officials Saw New Monkeypox Challenges Coming
Researchers and public health experts have been perplexed about how and why the latest monkeypox outbreak has occurred so aggressively beyond its origin in rural Central Africa.
“Monkeypox is caused by the pox virus, with a close resemblance to smallpox,” said Bodhraj Acharya, PhD, Manager of Chemistry and Referral Testing at the Laboratory Alliance of Central New York, in a conversation with Dark Daily. “Unlike COVID-19, this is an old enemy which has roots in the 1970s from Congo, when the disease was erratically endemic in Africa.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most monkeypox cases since 1970 have been reported from rural rainforest regions in Central and Western Africa.
Thus, a monkeypox outbreak occurring in Europe and the United States in 2022 has puzzled virologists and microbiologists because it does not follow the historical pattern of the virus’ spread. For example, the first monkeypox case in the US arrived in May from a Massachusetts patient who had traveled to Canada, a state press release noted.
Adesola Yinka-Ogunleye, an epidemiologist at the Nigeria Center for Disease Control and doctoral researcher at the Institute of Global Health at University College London, told the journal Nature that a 2017 outbreak in Nigeria served as a watershed moment in her understanding of monkeypox.
Before the Nigerian outbreak, the virus rose from rural areas where hunters came in close contact with animals. The illness resulted in lesions on the face, hands, and feet, Nature wrote of Yinka-Ogunleye’s recollections.
However, after 2017, she and other epidemiologists warned peers that the virus was spreading in new ways and in urban settings. For example, infected people sometimes had genital lesions, suggesting that the virus might spread through human sexual contact.
Now, in 2022, “the world is paying the price for not having responded adequately” in 2017, Yinka-Ogunleye told Nature.
Lack of Smallpox Vaccination Increases Monkeypox Challenges
The waning effects of smallpox vaccinations, which ended in 1980 after smallpox was basically eradicated from the world, may have opened the door for monkeypox to spread earlier this year. Smallpox vaccines provided some protection against monkeypox, but by now three generations of people have not received smallpox inoculations.
“Eyebrows were raised when multiple cases of monkeypox were reported from various non-endemic countries starting in May of 2022,” Acharya said. “Due to genetic similarity, smallpox vaccination provided some cross-protection, but the termination of smallpox vaccination could have provided ground for the recent insurgence and spread of monkeypox.”
Trying to jumpstart a new monkeypox vaccination campaign on the heels of COVID-19 shots may be met with resistance from a virus-weary public. But other options at preventing the current spread of monkeypox may present challenges as well, such as trying to curtail sexual activity among affected population, the BBC reported.
“The easiest way to prevent it is to close down all highly active sexual networks for a couple of months until it goes away, but I don’t think that will ever happen. Do you?” Paul Hunter, PhD, Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, told the BBC.
For medical laboratory workers and others who may find themselves testing for the disease in the future, the biggest lessons from current monkeypox challenges are twofold: The virus has invaded new geography, and discontinued smallpox vaccination campaigns may have left younger people exposed to monkeypox.