Monkeypox virus mutations ‘challenging’ what we know

the monkey pox virus The spread across the US, Europe and the UK is mutating surprisingly quickly, according to a study conducted by Portuguese researchers and published in the journal Nature Medicine. The study provides the most in-depth look at the genetic composition of the virus so far. Scientists sequence virus genomes because the genome is the virus’s playbook — the genome is the genetic material of an organism, and in the case of a virus, it tells us what the virus is, what it does, and how it is likely to spread.

Monkeypox has mutated 50 times since 2018

For the study, the researchers took samples of 15 monkeypox patients and compared the genomes of the virus that had infected them.

The researchers found that the patients each had a strain of monkeypox that could be traced back to a previous virus outbreak in 2018-2019 in the United Kingdom, Israel and Singapore, originated in Nigeria.

(Read also: Monkeypox: how do you protect yourself from the virus?

But more than that, the tests showed the virus has mutated 50 times — up to 12 times more than they expected — since that previous outbreak in 2018.

“These data completely challenge what is known about the monkeypox mutation rate,” he said study author Joao Paulo Gomes, a researcher at the National Institute of Health of Portugal.

West African monkeypox has lower death rates

There are a few things we know about monkeypox, and this new genome sequencing has helped researchers better understand the current outbreak.

First, in the current outbreak, the strain of the virus is mutating at an unusually fast rate.

Second, the outbreak likely started with a single case infecting others during a major super spreader event.

The species is part of the West African clade of monkeypox, which is commonly reported in Western Cameroons and Sierra Leone and has a mortality rate of less than 1%.

A clade is defined as a group of organisms that can be traced back to common ancestors or a common genetic lineage.

There is another common clade of monkeypox known as the “Central African” clade, which is more prevalent in the Congo Basin and has mortality rates of up to 10%.

The incubation period of monkeypox makes it difficult to track

There’s also a lot more we don’t know about monkeypox in this current outbreak.

The incubation period, which ranges from five to 21 days, makes the movement difficult to track.

The World Health Organization has identified the “index case” – the first confirmed case – as a person who traveled from Nigeria to the United States in early May.

But the researchers in Portugal dispute that idea, saying there were confirmed cases in Portugal and the United Kingdom at the end of April.

If the researchers in Portugal are right, we know less than we thought about the current outbreak, including how it evolved and what it is likely to do.

So where did the monkey pox outbreak begin?

The scientists write in their research paper that it is very likely that the virus was imported from a country where monkeypox is endemic, such as Nigeria, but they cannot rule out other possibilities.

They say it is also possible, for example, that the virus silently spreads through humans and/or other animals in non-endemic countries such as the UK or Singapore after the 2018-2019 outbreak.

And, they say, it’s unclear whether the mutated version is any worse than the original.

“The authors describe an unexpectedly high number of mutations in the virus, but their implications for disease severity or transmissibility are unclear,” said Hugh Adler, a researcher at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, in response to the article. He was not involved in the investigation.

“We have found no change in clinical disease severity in patients diagnosed in the current outbreak,” said Adler, who has worked with monkeypox patients in the UK during previous outbreaks.

Monkeypox research is ‘still in its infancy’

Monkeypox is a double-stranded zoonotic DNA virus. DNA viruses mutate more slowly than RNA viruses, such as the one that causes COVID-19.

But we generally lack a lot of knowledge about monkey pox. For example, the researchers in Portugal cite only one other study into the genetics of the virus.

Adler said the study of the virus’s genetics was “still in its infancy.”

“We have the genome sequence, so we have an idea of ​​what the genes are,” Adler said. “But in terms of really understanding what they’re doing and the implications for evolution, if the genes change — very little research has been done on that compared to many of the other major viruses that we know.”

Adler said the research by Gomes’ team in Portugal had provided “fascinating” new insights into the biology of monkeypox, but Adler noted that it seemed the research had only happened because of the current spread of the virus in countries with high levels of monkey pox. income.

“As always, if the global community had applied the same scientific resources to monkeypox outbreaks in Africa, we might already have a stronger knowledge base,” Adler said.

Monkeypox was first discovered in a monkey in 1958, and the first human case was found in a small child in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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