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May 16, 2024, 5:28pm EDT
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Semafor Signals

Warning over deadly mpox variant amid fears disease will cross borders

Insights from Health Policy Watch, The New York Times, Journal of Infectious Diseases

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Mpox illustration
Kontekbrothers via Getty
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The News

US health authorities warned Thursday that a deadlier version of mpox (formerly monkeypox) spreading in the Democratic Republic of the Congo could soon cross international borders, urging those at risk to get vaccinated.

While the mpox subtype, which has a higher death rate especially among children, has yet to be detected outside Africa, the Centers for Disease Control warned that vaccination rates have dropped since the 2022 outbreak that led to more than 30,000 cases in the US.

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Previous outbreaks of the virus, which spreads through physical contact, have hit gay and bisexual men particularly hard, and authorities are concerned that Pride festivities in June could accelerate cases if the virus jumps to the US.

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Mpox-hit DRC lacks critical access to vaccines

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Health Policy Watch

While the West now has extensive access to mpox vaccines, the DRC has no stockpile despite suffering the largest surge of cases ever recorded. The DRC is one of the most vaccine-hesitant societies in Africa, which, coupled with stigma surrounding same-sex activity, has meant that “regulatory approval of vaccines and medicines has thus inched forward at snail’s pace,” according to Health Policy Watch, an independent network of health journalists. Current mpox vaccines either require two doses or are injected intradermally — which requires special training for healthcare workers — making vaccine rollouts more complicated in the conflict-torn DRC, a World Health Official told the group.

US vaccination rates dropped after cases fell

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Source:  
The New York Times

An initial shortage of vaccines during the 2022 outbreak led many gay and bisexual men — accustomed to following public health messaging similar to HIV prevention programs — to curb their sexual activity, causing cases to decline rapidly, The New York Times reported. But the drop in infections “may have produced a false sense of security,” because vaccination rates for mpox have declined since 2022, according to one virologist. Fewer than one in four Americans received two doses of the vaccine, considered the most effective method to prevent the disease. “Behavioral changes are difficult to sustain,” the NYT wrote, and public health experts are still pushing for vaccination over celibacy.

Researchers warn mpox less symptomatic than previously thought

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Source:  
Journal of Infectious Diseases

The 2022 mpox outbreak was likely accelerated by many infected people being asymptomatic, according to a new study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. About 1 in 15 patients who visited New York City sexual health clinics during the outbreak had mpox antibodies despite not being vaccinated or having visible signs of infection such as lesions, a fever or respiratory symptoms, researchers found, adding that future strains of the virus could follow similar patterns. Using contact tracing that solely relies on testing patients with lesions “may be insufficient to completely curb future mpox outbreaks,” the researchers wrote.

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