When monkeypox briefly arrived in the United States in 2003, it infected prairie dogs. “We know that terrestrial squirrels are very susceptible to the virus and that there is a wide range of host species,” says Rimoin. “If the smallpox of the monkey could settle in a wildlife depot outside of Africa, it would be a very difficult situation to navigate.”
To identify exactly the extent of the current outbreak, the UK has chosen to make monkeypox a notifiable disease, ie all health professionals and laboratories that detect suspicious cases should alert the Agency. of the United Kingdom Health Security (UKHSA).
“I think the UKHSA has done the right thing because they’ve done a much wider surveillance network,” says David Heymann, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who has spent many years studying monkeypox in sub-Saharan Africa.
“They’re starting to identify whether or not it’s in other populations as well. It’s early, and we don’t know which groups are really at risk, or in addition to MSM. And hopefully there will probably be other groups.”
There are additional challenges ahead. Because the virus has already been linked to the MSM community, although it is believed to be able to spread through all sexual networks, scientists say health officials will need to communicate clearly with the public. to prevent the monkey’s smallpox from being stigmatized. If vaccines begin to be implemented specifically to select subpopulations and the disease builds up stigma, it could inhibit contact tracking efforts, which epidemiologists fear is already happening.
“There’s a concern that people want to self-identify, for fear of stigma,” Brownstein says. “There is concern that this virus, like others, may be unfairly associated with certain subpopulations.”
There are also questions about the capacity of health systems, which are already exhausted and stretched to their limits by the demands of Covid-19, and whether they have the capacity to increase its response to monkeypox.
“The public health infrastructure is barely built to deal with the response to one virus, let alone two,” says Brownstein. “But there are a lot of people who work hard to identify cases, keep track of contacts and evidence. It’s certainly increasing capacity, and there may be exhaustion, but I don’t think there’s any apathy on the part of the public health to respond to that. “
Although scientists believe there is room for optimism, and we will see in the coming weeks and months if rates of new cases begin to fall, it is vital that the current outbreak be taken seriously before the virus spreads. fix too much in society.
“I think there’s a lot at stake when we think about having a poxvirus that can circulate relatively efficiently in humans,” says Rimoin. “If it is established, we could end up in a situation where we will have to continuously devote resources, which are already stretched, to fighting a poxvirus that is spreading worldwide.”