Could monkeypox mutate? Why the virus could change as Covid explained

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Monkeypox is mainly spread by wild animals in parts of West or Central Africa and can be caught by infected wild animals

Numerous cases of monkeypox in humans have been identified in the UK since May 7, with the virus – usually confined to Africa – also being confirmed in a number of other countries around the world.

Given that we’ve only just scrapped the last remaining Covid rules, it’s no surprise that many of us are wondering if the monkeypox outbreak could lead us into another lockdown.

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Numerous cases of monkeypox in humans have been identified in the UK since May 7

Although monkeypox has been described as relatively mild so far, one of the most concerning aspects of Covid was the ability of the virus to mutate and cause more severe symptoms. From Delta to Omicron, we’ve seen a number of variations, some worse than others, and each bringing their own lockdown rules.

Could the same thing happen with monkeypox? That’s what you need to know.

Could monkeypox mutate?

Martin Michaelis, professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, said monkeypox virus is a DNA virus, whose genome has been quite stable in the past.

In comparison, SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, is an RNA virus that has a very high mutation rate and can evolve very quickly, with the risk of mutations in monkeypox being “significantly lower than for the Covid, explained Professor Michaelis.

However, he added that mutations in monkeypox always occur and even a few or a single mutation can alter the characteristics of a virus.

“It would be of particular concern if we had continued human-to-human spread, which would give the monkeypox virus an opportunity to adapt better to humans,” Professor Michaelis said.

This is echoed by Hussain Abdeh, clinical director and superintendent pharmacist at Medicine Direct, who said viruses are “constantly mutating” which is what they need to do “to survive”.

He said we’ve seen several different variants of Covid as a result of the virus evolving to combat the various vaccines created to fight the pandemic, so it’s possible monkeypox could also mutate.

But he added that since monkeypox is a “much better understood virus” than Covid, with plenty of research already out there, it would be easier to treat as a result.

Could monkeypox be transmitted to other mammals?

Monkeypox is mainly spread by wild animals in parts of West or Central Africa and can be caught by infected wild animals. It is thought to be spread by rodents, such as rats, mice and squirrels.

The virus is currently spreading between humans in the UK and other countries outside of its usual African base due to a recent outbreak, but Prof Michaelis said another concern is that the monkeypox virus could be introduced into animal reservoirs in places where it is not currently endemic. .

He said that in Africa the main reservoirs of monkeypox are expected to be different rodents such as Gambian rats, dormice and African squirrels, but rodent species in other countries, including pet species, are ” likely to be susceptible to this virus as well.”

For example, in 2003 there was an outbreak of monkeypox in the United States, caused by prairie dogs that had been housed with imported Gambian rats infected with the monkeypox virus.

Professor Michaelis said that as a result, ‘we could turn monkeypox into an endemic animal disease in many other parts of the world and not just in parts of central and western Africa, where it is normally found’ .

“If this happened in the UK, it would likely lead to more human cases here and be associated with a risk of developing more dangerous variants,” he added.

For those wondering if pets could catch monkeypox, Mr Abdeh said that although no pet cases have been reported so far, scientists say it was “theoretically possible”.

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