WHO: Monkeypox Can Spread Through Direct Contact and Airborne Transmission

Monkeypox virus, now called mpox, can spread through direct contact and airborne transmission. A more virulent strain has gained the ability to spread through sexual contact, raising global concerns about a potential outbreak.

Quadri Adejumo
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WHO: Monkeypox Can Spread Through Direct Contact and Airborne Transmission

WHO: Monkeypox Can Spread Through Direct Contact and Airborne Transmission

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in a tweet on April 25, 2024 that the monkeypox virus, now referred to as mpox, can spread through both direct contact and airborne transmission. This announcement comes as the Republic of the Congo declared an epidemic of mpox after confirming 19 cases across five departments, including the capital Brazzaville. No deaths have been recorded yet in this outbreak.

Mpox is a viral zoonotic disease that can cause painful, fluid-filled lesions and, in severe cases, death. The WHO renamed the virus from monkeypox to mpox in 2022 to address concerns of stigma and racism associated with the previous name. Symptoms of mpox include fever, body aches, and a characteristic skin rash.

A new, more virulent strain of the mpox virus, identified as clade I, has recently gained the ability to spread through sexual contact, raising fears of a potential global outbreak similar to the one experienced in 2022. This strain, historically associated with sporadic outbreaks in Central Africa, was detected in a cluster of infections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), marking a significant shift in its transmission dynamics.

Why this matters: The emergence of a mpox strain capable of efficient sexual transmission raises concerns about the virus's potential to cause wider outbreaks, particularly in regions like the DRC where it persists in wild animal populations. This development highlights the importance of robust surveillance, diagnostic capabilities, and control measures to prevent the spread of mpox on a global scale.

Efforts to contain the current outbreak include initiatives to improve mpox diagnosis and implement control measures. The WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working to provide resources and support to affected regions. While wealthy nations have offered smallpox vaccines, which also protect against mpox, to high-risk individuals, the rollout of these vaccines in Africa, where the disease burden is highest, has been slow. Researchers are also conducting trials of tecovirimat, an antiviral drug thought to be effective against mpox.

The WHO and CDC have helped equip the DRC with rapid diagnostic tools for mpox, offering hope for controlling the outbreak before the clade Ib strain spreads further. "The situation is further complicated by the limited testing capacity in the DRC, and the region's humanitarian challenges," the WHO stated in its tweet. As the international health community closely monitors the situation, the WHO urged countries to remain vigilant and take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of this potentially dangerous virus strain.

Key Takeaways

  • WHO states mpox can spread via contact and airborne transmission.
  • Republic of Congo declares mpox epidemic after 19 cases confirmed.
  • New, more virulent mpox strain can spread through sexual contact.
  • Efforts to contain outbreak include improved diagnosis and control measures.
  • Limited testing capacity and humanitarian challenges in DRC complicate response.