Spread of monkeypox in Europe is a ‘scientific mystery’, says Luke O'Neill

The recent outbreak in more than 10 countries where it is not endemic is highly unusual
Spread of monkeypox in Europe is a ‘scientific mystery’, says Luke O'Neill

The monkeypox outbreak in Europe is a "scientific mystery" as the source of many infections remains unknown, immunologist Prof Luke O'Neill has said.

Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a viral infection that was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body.

The recent outbreak in more than 10 countries where it is not endemic is highly unusual, according to scientists. More than 100 confirmed or suspected cases have been reported, most of them in Europe.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials have expressed concern that more infections could arise as people gather for festivals, parties and holidays during the coming summer months in Europe and elsewhere.

Luke O'Neill, professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, said the outbreak was "nothing to be too fearful of", but there were several unknowns.

"At the moment the scientific mystery is that we can't trace where several people have caught it from," he told Newstalk radio.

"The first case was May 7th in the UK – that was someone who came back from Nigeria and caught it from a rodent, potentially.

"The other people, though... they can't really figure out how those people caught it."

Experts believe the current monkeypox outbreak is being spread through close, intimate skin-on-skin contact with someone who has an active rash.

The virus is not as easily transmitted as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that spurred the global Covid-19 pandemic.

In Ireland a management team has been set up to prepare for the “eventuality” of monkeypox arriving on the island, Dr Derval Igoe of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said.

“It is always better to be prepared," she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

A number of professional groups will be involved in the management team including infectious diseases, sexual health, the National Immunisation Office and the National Virus Reference Laboratory, she added.

Dr Igoe said it was possible that some cases would be seen in Ireland which was why the management team had been set up. It was important for anyone experiencing the symptoms of monkeypox to inform their GP or sexual health clinic, to isolate for 21 days and to identify their contacts. – Additional reporting: Reuters

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