Monkeypox has continued it’s ravaging run in Africa. The cases of disease have been in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo Republic, the Central African Republic and, most recently, Nigeria.
In an effort to prevent it from going global, a team of American scientists is traveling deep into the Congo rain forest to a village that can be reached only by boat.
The scientists are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they have embarked on this watery journey to solve a decades-old mystery about a rare and fatal disease.
Monkeypox is cousin to the deadly smallpox virus, the monkeypox virus initially infects people through contact with wild animals and can then spread from person to person. The disease produces fever and a rash that often turns into painful lesions that can feel like cigarette burns. It kills up to 1 in 10 of its victims, similar to pneumonic plague, and is particularly dangerous in children. Monkeypox is on the U.S. government list of pathogens such as anthrax and Ebola with the greatest potential to threaten human health. There is no cure.
Over the past year, reports of monkeypox have flared alarmingly across Africa, one of several animal-borne diseases that have raised anxiety around the globe. The Congolese government invited CDC researchers here to track the disease and train local scientists. Understanding the virus and how it spreads during an outbreak is key to stopping it and protecting people from the deadly disease.
In Congo Republic, many suspected monkeypox cases trace back to the village of Manfouete, a six-hour boat trip from the nearest airport. The village has 1,600 people, no electricity and no running water. The scientists are traveling upriver in a big motorized boat that looks like an open-air school bus. They must bring everything they need for their work. So a second boat – a long, wooden dugout canoe – will follow later carrying most of their supplies: boxes of traps and test tubes, a portable centrifuge, jerrycans of gasoline, a 25-kilogram sack of rice and lots of bottled water.
Manfouete lies in the tropical rain forest of central Africa, just north of the equator. Leprosy and other infectious diseases long wiped out elsewhere still lurk in this remote corner of the world. Ebola, caused by one of the most dangerous pathogens ever discovered, is considered endemic in neighboring Congo, where eight outbreaks have been recorded in the past 40 years.
Since late last year, reports of monkeypox have been on the rise. An outbreak occurred in chimps in a Cameroon primate sanctuary. The United States experienced a monkeypox outbreak in 2003. An exotic pet dealer imported 800 animals from Africa, including giant pouched rats, dormice and rope squirrels. While the animals were housed in a facility in Illinois, some of them infected prairie dogs that were later sold as pets. Forty-seven people in six Midwestern states were sickened, all of whom recovered. The youngest was a 3-year-old girl bitten on the finger by her new pet prairie dog.
Worldwide, animal-borne infectious diseases that jump to humans are on the rise. Tropical rain forests, with their rich diversity of animal life, are disease hot spots. An outbreak that begins in a remote village such as Manfouete can reach major cities on any continent in less than 36 hours, blossoming into a global crisis.
In the Congo Republic, the monkeypox outbreak began in January with a hunter from Manfouete. Since then, at least 88 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported throughout the country, and six people have died, including one confirmed case from Manfouete.
Despite its name, monkeypox is probably not spread by monkeys. It was discovered in research monkeys in Denmark in 1958. Giant pouched rats, dormice and squirrels are the chief suspects, but there could be others. If the sources could be identified, villagers could avoid those species and prevent future outbreaks.
Over 10 days, the CDC team takes samples from 105 animals, including 28 African wood mice, 22 shrews, nine giant pouched rats, two bats and one African brush-tailed porcupine.
It will take several weeks for the liquid nitrogen tank to be cleared into Atlanta, where samples from the lesions on the giant pouched rats will be tested first. If biologists find evidence of monkeypox, they will attempt to grow the virus in the lab, sequence its genes and develop a more complete picture of which virus strains from which animals are infecting people. The entire process could take several months.
For now, the team focuses on leaving Manfouete. Their lab is dismantled and many supplies distributed to the villagers. The generator, traps, personal protective gear and test tubes will be carried back down the river and left in Impfondo for use in future disease outbreaks.
Source: Syndicated from several feeds.