Sep 27, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – More than 60 cases of monkeypox have been reported in the Republic of Congo since the beginning of this year, raising new concerns about the spread of the disease in humans.
Jean-Vivien Mombouli, director of research at the country's public health laboratory, said 62 probable monkeypox cases have been "confirmed" with rapid laboratory tests, according to a Sep 25 report from the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The story did not say whether further tests were done.
Although it is primarily a disease of rodents and nonhuman primates, monkeypox can occasionally spread to humans and cause an illness that resembles smallpox but generally is less severe. It is endemic in some parts of Africa.
Monkeypox surfaced in the Americas in 2003, when infected rodents imported from Ghana spread the virus to pet prairie dogs, which then infected people in the Midwest. The outbreak involved 71 confirmed, 12 probable, and 22 suspected cases in six states, but there were no deaths.
The Republic of Congo's first reported outbreak of human monkeypox also occurred in 2003, according to an August 2005 report in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Villagers have reported at least 150 cases related to the current outbreak, which started in January and has affected mostly refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who are younger than 15, the IRIN report said.
The outbreak is in the northern part of the country within a 124-mile-wide area in the Likouala region, which includes villages along the Oubangui River, the natural border between the Congo, DRC, and the Central African Republic, according to IRIN.
Experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will visit the country's capital, Brazzaville, this week to analyze virus samples and investigate the origin of the outbreak, IRIN reported.
There is no cure or vaccine for monkeypox, but in 2005 scientists reported that smallpox vaccination might provide some immunity against the disease. Vaccinia, the virus used in smallpox vaccines, and the monkeypox virus are closely related members of the orthopox virus family.
August 2005 American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene report
Aug 11, 2005 CIDRAP News story "Persistence of smallpox immunity may have protected against monkeypox in 2003"