Mutated Mpox Strain with Pandemic Potential Discovered in DRC Mining Town

Researchers discover highly transmissible mpox strain in DRC with pandemic potential, raising global health concerns and calls for urgent international response.

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Muhammad Jawad
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Mutated Mpox Strain with Pandemic Potential Discovered in DRC Mining Town

Mutated Mpox Strain with Pandemic Potential Discovered in DRC Mining Town

Researchers have discovered a new, highly transmissible strain of the mpox virus, named clade 1b, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that has raised concerns about its pandemic potential. The mutated strain, which is a descendant of the deadly clade 1 mpox variant, was found in the densely populated gold mining town of Kamituga near the Rwandan border.

The outbreak in Kamituga has already led to 108 confirmed cases, with around 30% occurring among sex workers. Experts warn that the virus is primarily spreading through sexual contact and that the highly mobile population in the region could facilitate its spread nationally and internationally. The DRC is currently struggling to contain the clade 1 mpox variant, which has a fatality rate of up to 10% and has claimed hundreds of lives in the country, with two-thirds of cases and 85% of deaths among children.

Why this matters: The emergence of the clade 1b strain poses a serious global health threat, as it has evolved to become more infectious and better at evading tests compared to its predecessor. The potential for the virus to spread rapidly in the DRC and beyond, coupled with the region's ill-equipped healthcare infrastructure, highlights the urgent need for a coordinated international response to prevent another devastating mpox pandemic.

Researchers are calling for swift action by endemic countries and the international community to contain the outbreak, including expanded surveillance, contact tracing, and targeted vaccination efforts. The local healthcare infrastructure in Kamituga is ill-equipped to handle a large-scale epidemic, further emphasizing the need for immediate intervention.

While the 2022-2023 global mpox outbreak primarily affected networks of gay and bisexual men, the transmission route of the clade 1b strain remains unclear, although sex workers have been involved in its spread in Kamituga. The discovery of this new variant comes after a less severe version of mpox caused a worldwide epidemic in 2022, resulting in 58 deaths in the United States.

In the first quarter of 2024, the DRC reported 3,576 mpox infections and 264 deaths, with a significant proportion of cases and fatalities among children. The emergence of the clade 1b strain in Kamituga has led to 241 suspected cases and 108 confirmed infections since it was first detected between July and September 2022.

Key Takeaways

  • New highly transmissible mpox strain, clade 1b, discovered in DRC with pandemic potential.
  • Clade 1b outbreak in Kamituga led to 108 confirmed cases, 30% among sex workers.
  • Clade 1b more infectious and evades tests better than predecessor clade 1 mpox.
  • DRC struggling to contain clade 1 mpox with 10% fatality rate, 2/3 cases in children.
  • Urgent need for coordinated global response to prevent another mpox pandemic.