Studies are underway to determine whether genetic mutations in the monkeypox virus are behind the rapid spread of the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) told AFP on Wednesday.
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The two groups, or different variants, of the virus have been named Congo Basin (Central Africa) and West Africa, after the two regions where they are endemic. On Friday, WHO renamed these groups Clade I and Clade II, respectively, to avoid any risk of geographic stigma.
She also announced that Clade II has two subclades, IIa and IIb, with viruses from the latter identified as the source of the current global epidemic.
On Wednesday, the WHO clarified that clades IIa and IIb are related and share a recent common ancestor – hence IIb is not an offshoot of IIa.
“Indeed, if you look at the genome, there are some genetic differences between the viruses of the current outbreak and the older clade IIb viruses,” the WHO told AFP. “However, nothing is known about the significance of these genetic changes, and research is ongoing to determine the impact (if any) of these mutations on transmission and severity of the disease.”
“Both in the epidemic and in laboratory studies, it is too early to say whether the increase in infections could be due to the genome changes seen in the virus or whether it is due to host (human)-related factors. “ according to WHO.
An increase in monkeypox virus infections outside endemic African countries has been reported since early May. The WHO declared an international health emergency on July 23.
More than 35,000 cases in 92 countries and 12 deaths have been reported to the WHO. Almost all new cases are reported in Europe and America.
The WHO has warned its campaign to rename monkeypox could take “several months”. For weeks, the organization has been concerned about the name, which experts say is misleading.
Monkeypox was so named because the virus was first identified in monkeys bred for research in Denmark in 1958.
However, the disease most commonly manifests itself in rodents, and the current epidemic is spread through human-to-human contact.
The WHO asked the public for help in finding a new name and set up a website to collect suggestions.