When monkeypox briefly entered the United States in 2003, it infected prairie dogs. “We know that ground squirrels are extremely susceptible to this virus and have a wide variety of hosts,” Rimoin said. “If monkeypox can establish itself in wildlife reservoirs outside of Africa, that’s a very complicated situation.”
In order to pinpoint the broad scope of the current outbreak, the UK has opted to make monkeypox a notifiable infectious disease, meaning all health professionals and laboratories who detect a suspected case must alert the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
“I think UKHSA is doing the right thing because they’ve broadened their surveillance network,” said David Heymann, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who has been studying monkeypox for several years. . Saharan Africa.
“They’ll start to determine if it’s also present in other populations. It’s very early days, and we don’t know which groups are really at risk, or beyond MSM. We expect there may be other groups.”
There are other challenges ahead. Because the virus has been linked to the MSM community — even though it is thought to be able to spread through all sexual networks — scientists say health officials must communicate clearly with the public to avoid monkeypox stigma. If a vaccine starts rolling out in a targeted fashion to select subpopulations, and the disease creates stigma, it could dampen contact-tracing efforts, which epidemiologists fear may already be happening.
“People worry about wanting to identify themselves because of fear of being stigmatized,” Brownstein said. “There are concerns that this virus, like others, may be unfairly associated with certain subgroups.”
There are also questions about the capacity of healthcare systems, which have been exhausted by the demands of Covid-19, and their ability to intensify responses to monkeypox.
“Public health infrastructure can barely handle one virus, let alone two,” Brownstein said. “But there’s a lot of people working really hard on case identification, contact tracing, testing. It’s definitely expanding capacity, it can be exhausting, but I don’t think public health will be indifferent to it.”
While scientists believe there is still room for optimism — we’ll see in the coming weeks and months whether the rate of new cases begins to decline — the ongoing outbreak is taken seriously before the virus becomes too entrenched in society. epidemic is crucial.
“I think when we think about having a poxvirus that can spread relatively efficiently in humans, the risk is actually pretty high,” Rimoin said. “If it builds up, we could end up in a situation where we’re going to have to continually devote our already stretched resources to fighting the pox virus that’s spreading around the world.”