Is monkeypox officially a pandemic? Here’s what the experts say

This week, the states of California and Illinois joined New York state in declaring a public health emergency due to a surge in monkeypox cases. A few weeks ago, the World Health Organization declared a “global health emergency” for the virus, which is related to smallpox and causes pustules and other fever-like symptoms.

The three-state move resulted in 5,811 cases of monkeypox in 48 US states by August 1, 2022; The three aforementioned states that have declared states of emergency have the highest number of cases in the country, accounting for nearly 47 percent of total cases. But nearly two months ago, there were only 19 confirmed cases in 10 states. (The first case occurred in May.) In 2003, there was a mini-epidemic in the United States, with 47 confirmed or probable cases of monkeypox in six states, but it quickly subsided.

The rapid increase in the number of cases is reminiscent of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the number of cases jumped from single to four digits in a matter of months. Now, as the monkeypox outbreak continues, some are wondering: Is the country on the brink of another pandemic?

“For me, a pandemic would be an epidemic that would spread too widely and disrupt society,” Adalja said. “And it’s something that spreads across the population.”

It depends on how you define a pandemic, Salon experts say; but in general, the increase in cases makes it difficult to catch him at this time. The actions taken by public health officials in the coming days and weeks will affect how bad the spread becomes. However, there are some key differences between monkeypox and SARS-CoV-2 that make these two public health events distinct.

In the dictionary of epidemiology, a pandemic is defined as one step above an epidemic; Specifically, a pandemic is an “epidemic that occurs worldwide or in a very large area, crosses international borders, and usually affects large numbers of people.” However, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center who co-authored a paper on the characteristics of pandemic pathogens, explained to Salon that there are no official markers to tell exactly when a pandemic is underway.

“There is no one who snaps his fingers and says, ‘This is a pandemic,’ but for me, a pandemic would be a contagious disease that would spread very widely and destroy society,” Adalja said. “And it’s something that spreads across the population.”

Dr. Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, agreed.

in the sense of ” [monkeypox] I don’t think it’s possible because it’s the next pandemic like SARS-CoV-2,” Morse said. “Technically, it’s a pandemic because it’s already in many countries around the world, mostly within certain borders. communities and it has spread and we didn’t expect it.”

Both Adalja and Morse agree that due to the way monkeypox is transmitted, it will not spread as quickly as COVID-19 has spread around the world; therefore, there is still a chance to catch him.

The monkeypox virus originated in wild animals in the jungles of west and central Africa; sometimes, he made people jump. Monkeypox was first discovered in 1970 in a 9-year-old boy in a remote part of the Congo. But it was first identified by scientists in 1958, when monkeys used in research laboratories had two outbreaks of smallpox-like diseases.


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According to the CDC, monkeypox can cause symptoms such as a painful rash that can appear all over a person’s body. Other symptoms are flu-like and include swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, back pain, headache, fever, fatigue and chills. Eventually, ulcers develop and go through several stages before falling off. Pustules are uncomfortable to describe.

Matt Ford, 30, explained to Self magazine: “The sores in my sensitive areas and underwear were so painful that I couldn’t sleep.” “I would describe the feeling as a dull, chronic ache that if I moved the wrong way turned into excruciating pain; I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced anything like it.”

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, current data for this strain indicate a mortality rate of 3.6%. Notably, this is higher than COVID-19, which currently has a global mortality rate of 1.1%. Most people with monkeypox recover within two to four weeks after symptoms appear. Unlike COVID-19, the most contagious virus ever discovered, monkeypox is more difficult to transmit. Gay and bisexual men are now at the highest risk of infection, according to public health officials.

According to Adalja, respiratory infections are a concern and may be characteristic of a potentially pandemic pathogen such as COVID-19. Two other characteristics of a pandemic-like pathogen, according to Adalja, are the incubation period and population immunity.

“When it comes to transmission mechanisms, it really has to be respiration,” Adalja said.

According to the CDC, monkeypox is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids or through sores on the body of a person who has monkeypox. It can also be spread through materials that come into contact with body fluids or through wounds that come into contact with an infected person – such as clothing or bedding. It can also be spread through respiratory droplets when people have face-to-face contact. However, this is not its main mode of transmission, Adalja said, commenting on how misinformation about monkeypox has proliferated.

“I don’t think we’ve missed an opportunity in the U.S. against monkeypox. What we do in the next few weeks will be very important.”

“The first aspect is that just because something spreads through a pathway, that doesn’t mean it’s what’s driving the transmission,” Adalja said. “Monkeypox can be transmitted biologically through respiratory droplets, but is that what causes it to spread? Or is it an infectious disease or the primary mode of transmission?”

When the virus is transmitted through airborne droplets, Adalja’s household attack rate — meaning secondary infections that occur after a person is first infected — is 100 percent. In one study, household attack rates of monkeypox ranged from 10 percent to 50 percent. Unlike COVID-19, there are vaccines for monkeypox. As Salon previously reported, the US released the Jynneos monkey vaccine from its strategic national stockpile. Meanwhile, people who received the smallpox vaccine before it was discontinued in the 1970s can protect against monkeypox.

Still, what happens next and how states and the federal government respond to the threat will affect how much monkeypox spreads.

“I don’t think we missed an opportunity to contain monkeypox in the U.S.,” said Melanie Chitwood, a doctoral student in microbial disease epidemiology who authored a recent peer-reviewed modeling study. “What we do over the next few weeks will be very important.”

The most important response right now is to vaccinate those at risk as soon as possible, Chitwood said by email. If it were easy to get tested and quarantine when you test positive, it would help slow the spread.

“We need to provide financial and social support to help infected people recover from isolation,” Chitwood said. “Our analysis shows that contact tracing is also an important part of the answer, but contact tracing can be difficult to implement; people don’t always remember who they contacted or how to contact their contacts.”

To date, Chitwood said, what has been done so far “hasn’t been enough.”

“We’ve had a good start to the virus and the sooner we can ramp up public health measures, the better,” Chitwood said.

“My concern is that if we don’t stop monkeypox now, we’re going to be dealing with epidemics for years,” Chitwood said. “Monkey pox can spread in congregated areas, so I’m especially concerned about students returning to college campuses in the next few weeks.”

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