The virus, first documented in 1958, has infected more than 70 people in the UK in recent weeks and has been reported to be spreading beyond those with links to travel to West Africa. However, leading immunologists have said that we should be concerned about the possible effects but should not panic.
David Katz, a retired professor of immunology at UCL, has suggested it may follow a similar path from previous seasonal outbreaks of influenza or mostly non-lethal viruses.
In an interview with Express.co.ukhe compared monkeypox in nature to smallpox, which he noted was “the thing people used to make the smallpox vaccine”.
He added: “There are no people dying from it, but there are people who get a pretty nasty and infectious disease that causes blisters and pustules.”
Earlier this week, David Heymann, a WHO epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Channel 4 News that there are two key types of monkeypox that have been found naturally in sub-Saharan Africa: strain in the basin. of the Congo and West Africa strain – the latter is the one that has spread.
He said the strain had caused “a much less serious illness” than the other, and as it did not spread easily by breathing, “this will not be like a Covid pandemic”.
As soon as cases in Britain that were not linked to trips from West Africa were discovered, questions began to arise as to whether monkeypox could be the next Covid.
The fact that it has spread in the London LGBT community has raised questions about whether it may be a descendant of HIV.
However, Professor Katz said these represented “the kinds of stupid equations people make.”
He was able to anticipate more stress for doctors as parents wondered if their child’s smallpox could actually be monkeypox, but noted that “we haven’t had any mortality yet.”
The “increased sensitivity” that humans may have to it because of a coronavirus can create an “overreaction” to monkeypox, which he feared could lead to a boy crying wolf situation if another serious virus arose.
Professor Katz added: “That’s the kind of disease you’re looking at – but it’s not to make it worse. Not to mention that it doesn’t matter; it is not dangerous.
“There will be children and adults who get secondary infections in their blisters. A secondary infection can cause sepsis or something like that.
And if you are immunocompromised in any way, […] then you are obviously at a higher risk of this. ”
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He said it was not yet understood whether monkeypox was spreading as a sexually transmitted disease, such as gonorrhea or syphilis, or whether it appeared to have been spread by close physical contact.
Cases have appeared across Europe, including in Israel, Argentina and the United States. France said on Tuesday that its health agency had recommended targeted vaccinations.
Asked if what was spreading around the globe could be a new strain of the virus – after seeing so many new Covid variants emerge during the pandemic – Professor Katz was open to the idea, stating that it was “perfectly possible” but ” hard to know “. at this stage.
The similarity of Monkeypox to smallpox may also demonstrate a defining factor in how it spreads and what its effects are on the population.
Professor Heymann said: “People who are at greatest risk are people who have never had smallpox vaccination because smallpox vaccination has protected against monkeypox. But people under the age of 40 because it was stopped when smallpox was eradicated.”
Professor Katz suggested that a vaccine could be developed for monkeypox, but that it may prove more harmful than the virus itself. He added: “Don’t forget that a lot of smallpox stuff comes from knowing in advance what viruses really were.”
The lead immunologist also asked if the relatively “clean environment” we have been in in recent years due to the pandemic could mean “our immune system is not as ready as it may have been” if we caught more diseases.
He warned: “There is an opportunity for this kind of spread.”