As cases of monkeypox continue to occur in various countries around the world, scientists are considering the most likely scenarios. While fears of another pandemic are legitimate, experts consulted by EL PAÍS see it as “highly unlikely”; Anyway, they say, it will have very different characteristics from Covid-19.
Here are the four scenarios our experts predicted, ranked from most likely to least likely:
The outbreak was contained within a few weeks
Oscar Zurriaga, of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology, and Raul Rivas Gonzalez, professor of microbiology and genetics at the University of Salamanca, believe that the containment measures that are being put in place – detection and isolation of cases – should be sufficient to stop the virus.
From what is known so far, the pathogen is transmitted through fluids. Therefore, infection can only occur through close contact with another infected person (or animal).
Although cases continue to increase for the time being where there is an outbreak, Rivas Gonzalez says it will likely be over between six and eight weeks after it appears.
There are still many unknowns that keep this scenario only default. Air transmission has not been completely ruled out, as cases may be difficult to trace and appear in people who do not appear to have been in close contact with other infected people.
Containment using ring vaccination
“I think circular vaccination should start now,” says immunologist and researcher Mathilde Cannell, referring to the practice of immunizing people who have been in contact with infected people, along with those who have had close contact with them. France and the United States have already started a circular vaccination with the drug used for smallpox, the only human disease that has been eradicated. Smallpox vaccine is believed to offer greater protection than 70% of monkeypox, and it includes people of older generations who got the smallpox vaccine as children.
Rivas Gonzalez also suggests vaccinating health professionals, who may have come into contact with the virus at their work. Meanwhile, Zuryaga does not exclude the necessity of mass vaccination at some point: [Salto de ajuste de texto]”I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, but if one country does it, I wouldn’t be surprised if others support it for more political reasons than scientific ones.”
Those consulted agree that vaccinations should be sufficient to make the virus disappear. But it’s not guaranteed either.
The virus becomes endemic
One of the health authorities’ main concerns is that the virus will become a pandemic in Europe, as is already the case in some African countries. This means that there will be outbreaks relatively frequent, either because the infection does not stop in humans, or because it reaches animals from which the virus is transmitted repeatedly to humans. “This is why it’s important to isolate those infected, as well as their pets,” says Rivas Gonzalez.
“And when the virus comes into contact with other animals, it will be difficult to control.” The scientist adds that this is also why it is so important to discover the origin of this outbreak.
Pandemic ‘almost impossible’
A pandemic is unlikely, I would say almost impossible, says Rivas Gonzalez, while Zurriaga says it is “extremely unlikely,”
Kanellis also doesn’t see that as a possible scenario, but she cautions: “We cannot completely rule out transmission by aerosol, as happened with the Covid virus.” If it is confirmed that monkeypox is transmitted through the air, then the epidemic is likely to be more.
“There are still a lot of things we don’t know about the current outbreak,” says Jose Jimenez, an emerging virologist in the Department of Infectious Diseases at King’s College London.
“If there is one thing we must learn now, it is that viruses can always surprise us,” he adds.
Comparisons with covid are inevitable, but even if monkeypox becomes an epidemic, Jimenez points out that there are many differences between the two viruses, noting that SARS-CoV-2 is completely unknown and there have been no vaccines or drugs against it – while there are no specific details For monkeypox, the vaccines used against smallpox appear to be very effective. It is also a virus known for half a century, has caused frequent outbreaks in Africa and has a more stable structure than that of the pathogen that caused the virus.
As Kanellis said, “We have the tools to stop it.”