Monkeypox mutating 12 times faster than expected, experts warn

World

More than 3,500 cases of monkeypox have been detected across the world so far (Picture: Reuters)

Monkeypox may be mutating at an abnormally fast rate, experts have warned.

The virus has replicated up to 12 times faster than expected since 2018, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found.

The study, which is pending official publication, looked at 15 samples of the monkeypox virus.

The NIH team restructured the genetic information of the virus to detect the number of changes it had undergone since the strain entered into circulation.

While the virus is spread by physical touch, contaminated surfaces or very close bodily contact, this research means it could also spread in ways which do not follow its normal pattern.

More than 3,500 cases have been detected across the world so far, and as of June 23, 910 cases have been reported across the UK. It is currently present in some 50 countries.

Occasionally, non-endemic countries detect a small amount of cases at any given time.

For example, in the US in 2021, two cases of monkeypox were detected.

Monkeypox
Monkeypox is spreading across lots of countries (Picture: Gov.uk)
Researchers believe monkeypox first started moving across the world in 2018 (Picture: Reuters)

But the more recent outbreak – which has seen cases detected across multiple countries – suggests this may be a more infectious strain of the virus.

Researchers believe the West African variant of monkeypox first started moving across the world in 2018.

Unlike Covid, DNA viruses such as monkeypox are not known to rapidly mutate.

There are currently 201 cases of the virus in the US – but experts warn this is a severe undercount to the actual number of cases.

It is believed cases could become endemic across the US, UK and Europe.

It is thought most outbreaks across the US and Europe have been detected among gay and bisexual men.

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The UK Health Security Agency recommended gay and bisexual men at higher risk of exposure be offered vaccines.

The smallpox vaccine Imvanex is expected to be offered, which is shown to be effective against monkeypox.

The strategy is endorsed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which was consulted on the eligibility criteria for the vaccine.

Eligibility would depend on a number of factors, but would be similar to the criteria used to assess those eligible for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – but applied regardless of HIV status.

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