Monkeypox may be mutating faster than predicted, study finds

The virus that is fueling a spike in smallpox cases around the world may be mutating more quickly than anticipated as it spreads from person to person, a study said, as authorities move to broaden eligibility. for vaccines for more groups considered at risk.

This evolution may explain why this smallpox strain appears to be more transmissible, researchers in Portugal wrote in a study published in Nature Medicine on Friday.

One of the authors of the study, João Paulo Gomes, from the National Institute of Health of Portugal, in Lisbon, said that the world is facing an outbreak “caused by a virus that presents [many] more mutations than we could expect for this type of virus.”

“It was quite unexpected to find so many mutations in the 2022 monkeypox virus,” said Gomes. “In fact, given the characteristics of the genome of this type of virus, it is likely that no more than one or two mutations arise each year.”

His team, in fact, observed about 50. Viruses such as monkeypox tend to be relatively stable, and previous outbreaks tended to disappear whenever a case was detected in places where the disease was not endemic.

The World Health Organization has convened a meeting of one of its advisory groups to determine whether the current outbreak of monkeypox should be classified as a public health emergency of international concern, the highest designation under international law. Covid-19, for example, is classified as such. The decision could come out as early as Friday.

The WHO does not have the authority to call the start of a pandemic, but it began using the term Covid in March 2020 to raise awareness of the disease.

Gomes’ research used metagenomics, which can help reconstruct genomic sequences in a time series. His institution published the first draft of the virus genome in this outbreak last month.

Globally, health officials are closely monitoring the evolution of the outbreak. New York City on Thursday became the latest area to expand vaccination; opened eligibility for men who have sex with men who have had multiple or anonymous partners in the last 14 days. Previously, it had offered the vaccine, designed for smallpox but which has been shown to protect against smallpox, to contacts of confirmed or probable cases.

The UK and parts of Canada have also expanded use of the vaccine, which uses Bavarian Nordic’s Imvanex biotechnology. More than 3,000 cases have been reported to date, according to Our World in Data.

Monkeypox was first identified decades ago, although authorities have pointed to a relative lack of literature on the subject. Some said this is due to the previously limited area of ​​spread of the disease.

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