A Concerning New Strain of Mpox Emerges

A new strain of mpox, officially designated clade 1b, has been identified as the most dangerous variant of the virus to date. Experts revealed in a press briefing today that this strain, which has a fatality rate of up to 10% and causes miscarriages, is spreading rapidly in central Africa.

There are growing concerns that the virus could soon spread to Europe and other regions. Professor Trudie Lang, director of the Global Health Network at Oxford University, highlighted the severity of this strain, calling it “without a doubt the most dangerous type of mpox yet.”

First discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in February, clade 1b behaves significantly differently from previous clades 1 and 2 of mpox. Unlike the Clade 2 outbreak in 2022, which primarily affected gay men, this new strain spreads without requiring sexual contact.

During a Zoom call with journalists on Tuesday, researchers confirmed that clade 1b spreads through touch. This mode of transmission is particularly concerning as it allows the virus to spread from mother to child and within schools and workplaces.

The symptoms of the disease have also changed. The virus is causing a high number of miscarriages among young women, and the lesions and blisters now appear all over the body rather than being confined to the genital area. The death rate is estimated to be between 5% and 10% for both adults and children.

Leandre Murhula Masirika, who is leading the research on clade 1b in the DRC, noted the extreme danger posed by this strain. Common symptoms include whole-body rashes, eye problems, and fever. The monkeypox rash stages are particularly severe in this variant, with rapid progression and widespread distribution.

A Growing Concern

The virus is spreading quickly, with cases reported in DRC towns near the borders of Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. Experts believe it is highly likely the virus has already reached these neighboring countries, although no official cases have been reported outside the DRC.

Goma, a city with nearly one million residents, including tens of thousands of refugees and an international airport with direct flights to Europe, reported a large outbreak of the new mpox strain on Monday.

John Claude Udahemuaka, a researcher at the University of Rwanda working in the DRC, warned that countries outside Africa should prepare for potential cases. He pointed out the lack of border controls and the ease with which infected individuals could travel, further spreading the virus.

Approximately 600 patients have been identified in Kamituga, where the mutant strain was first detected. However, experts believe the actual numbers are much higher due to limited surveillance. The World Health Organization reports 7,850 mpox cases and 384 deaths in the DRC, although the exact number attributed to clade 1b is unclear.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Masirika warned. “The cases are increasing daily, and it’s only a matter of time before the virus spreads to other countries.”

The smallpox vaccine, which was widely used in Africa until the 1980s, offers some protection against mpox. However, its effectiveness against clade 1b is uncertain. Additionally, PCR tests currently used to diagnose mpox do not work for the new strain, raising concerns about the asymptomatic spread.

Experts have traced the new outbreak to a man who traveled from another part of the DRC to Kamituga, a small mining town near the Rwandan border. He reportedly had sexual contact with multiple sex workers, who then spread the virus within the community. Researchers are still trying to understand why and how the mpox virus mutated, adding to the growing list of questions about this strain.

The World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the governments of the DRC and Rwanda are in discussions to secure vaccines to combat the outbreak, although their effectiveness against clade 1b remains uncertain. Efforts are also underway in places like New York City (NYC) to prepare for potential outbreaks, including the availability of the monkeypox vaccine NYC.

Understanding the monkeypox origin and tracking its mutations are crucial steps in developing effective vaccines and strategies to contain this dangerous new strain. The CDC continues to monitor and provide updates on the spread of monkeypox and its various clades, including clade 1b.

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