Monkeypox virus has mutated at 12 times the expected rate, making it more contagious than previous versions of the virus, experts warn
- The current strain of monkeypox virus spread around the world is changing faster than expected
- Experts believe it has been circulating since 2018, and it has mutated 12 times more than it should have since then
- The current outbreak includes more than 3,500 cases in nearly 50 countries, including just over 200 in the United States.
- Researchers believe that the reason this type of virus has been able to spread so quickly is because of its many mutations
The strain of monkeypox virus that has emerged around the world in recent weeks may be evolving at an abnormally fast rate – making it more contagious than previous versions of the virus.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the virus has doubled by up to 12 times its expected frequency since 2018.
This means that the virus, which is generally believed to be spread by physical touch, contaminated surfaces, or very close physical contact, can spread in ways that are atypical to the normal patterns of tropical viruses.
That would explain the recent global update of monkeypox, with 201 cases detected in 25 US states and Washington, DC, with more than 3,500 cases detected worldwide in countries where the virus is not endemic.
Researchers have found that the current strain of monkeypox virus that has caused worldwide outbreaks of the tropical virus is mutating 12 times faster than expected. This will likely make it more portable
The researchers, whose results are awaiting official publication in Nature, collected and studied 15 monkeypox virus samples for the study.
The NIH team restructured the viruses’ genetic information to see how many changes the virus has undergone since this strain began circulating.
While the virus was recently discovered in humans, experts believe that this strain of monkeypox in West Africa first started moving across the world in 2018.
How viruses mutate and spread is a generally known science. DNA viruses such as monkeypox generally do not mutate as quickly – as COVID-19 does.
The nature of the virus allows it to fix errors that appear when it reproduces, leaving much less room for mutations to form – and in effect limiting the number of variants.
When researchers investigated this strain of the virus, they found that it mutated between six and 12 times the overall rate of the virus.
Exactly why this cannot be determined, although experts believe this may play a role in how the virus managed to sweep the world this year.
Monkeypox has been reported in nearly 50 countries where the disease has not been endemic in recent weeks.
While sometimes non-endemic countries will find cases — two cases were detected in the United States in 2021 — infections are usually easy to find and health officials can control an outbreak once they get caught in the winds of circulation.
This outbreak was different, with cases quickly being detected in large numbers around the world. This may indicate that a more contagious version of the virus is afoot.
The 201 cases in the US this year are thought to be significantly understated as some experts warn that the country does not have the testing and tracing capabilities needed to stay on top of every new case.
The version of monkeypox circulating around the world is of the West African type, but it changes at a pace not expected from a DNA virus (file photo)
Some even fear the virus will become endemic to the US, UK and other countries around the world.
Most of the infections detected as part of the current outbreak are among gay and bisexual men, both in the United States and across Europe.
California, the most populous state in America, has recorded 51 infections so far – more than any other state. New York and Illinois also scored 35 and 26, respectively.
With the way the virus has spread through sexual networks, some fear that pride celebrations across America this past weekend will lead to an increase in the number of cases.
In preparation, New York City health officials began rolling out monkeypox vaccines to city residents last week.
The footage quickly ran out, with Friday attendances cut short due to high demand.
With the knockout blow taking about four days to take effect fully as well, there are questions as to whether the shots came too late before the Pride parade in the city which has hosted nearly two million people.