Some good news about the monkeypox outbreak

AP Photo/Brittainy Newman

I’m surprised Biden is already in “concerned” mode about this. The political incentives require it, I suppose, as he’d be pilloried by Republicans if he downplayed the outbreak only to have it erupt nationally later. (He’s been burned by premature declarations of victory over viruses before.) But you would think a guy who got elected promising normalcy, facing an electorate that’s exasperated by his failure to deliver on that pledge, would want to ease people’s minds about the latest Thing To Freak Out Over.


The burning question about the global monkeypox outbreak is whether the virus has evolved into something more contagious and/or virulent. Studies of its genome are preliminary and ongoing, but this morning brings news that it might just be the same ol’ monkeypox the world has lived with for years. And not even the more deadly strain that’s known to kill 10 percent who are infected. This strain has a one percent fatality rate, at least for patients in the third world.

If it’s the same ol’ monkeypox rather than a new strain, already existing smallpox vaccines should work on it. And because monkeypox spreads with some difficulty, requiring sustained close contact between people, authorities probably won’t need to launch a broad vaccination campaign to stop the spread. They’ll begin with a “ring vaccination” strategy instead, in which all close contacts of people who test positive are vaccinated. With any luck, that’ll stop the virus cold.


Of course, not everyone who’s contracted the virus might have tested positive yet, which means they’re still out spreading it around. Scientists are bracing for more cases:

A total of 120 confirmed or suspected cases have been reported globally – including 20 in the UK – with the majority of infections in Spain linked to a sauna in Madrid…

Dr Claire Dewsnap said: “Our response is really critical here…

“It’s already circulating in the general population. Getting on top of all those people’s contacts is a massive job.

“It could be really significant numbers over the next two or three weeks.”

The possibility that the outbreak is being driven through sexual networks has made doctors worry about patients walking into clinics believing they have an STD and inadvertently spreading the virus to others while they’re seated in the waiting room — or to the doctors themselves. They’re scrambling to institute safety protocols to minimize the risk of transmission.

Meanwhile, a Spanish newspaper has a theory about how the outbreak in Europe started.

The Gran Canarian pride festival attended by 80,000 from Britain and across Europe is being investigated after being linked to numerous monkeypox cases in Madrid, Italy and Tenerife.

Held between May 5 and May 15, Maspalomas Pride attracts visitors from across the continent.

It was attended by people who have tested positive for the monekypox virus afterwards, with public health services from the Canary Islands now investigating the any links between the cases and the LGBT+ celebrations.

‘Among the 30 or so diagnosed in Madrid, there are several who attended the event, although it is not yet possible to know if one of them is patient zero of this outbreak or if they all got infected there,’ a health source told El País.


That would help explain why, as of a few days ago, all patients who had tested positive so far were male and a “notable proportion” were gay or bisexual. Three Italian men who tested positive this week reportedly all attended the festival. It seems likely that someone with monkeypox was also there and kickstarted a superspreader event.

But whoever that person was probably wasn’t Patient Zero in the global outbreak. The first patient in the UK to test positive developed a rash on May 5, the same day the festival began, and was hospitalized in London the next day. Transmission must have been happening to some degree before the Gran Canarian event opened, then.

And the three Italian men who were at the festival allegedly had no contact with each other there. Given that the virus can take up to four weeks to incubate, it’s possible that a *lot* of people at the festival were infected and that some have yet to show symptoms. Health authorities in their home countries should start offering the smallpox vaccine to anyone who attended as a precaution. I bet we’ll see movement in that direction this week.

Here’s Biden’s new COVID czar, Ashish Jha, sounding more even-keeled about this than the president himself.


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