Monkeypox is not COVID, but need to keep a watch, says top scientist

Rakesh Mishra

Rakesh Mishra

Monkeypox is not COVID kind of virus so there is no need for any alarm over the cases surfacing in different parts of the country. It is also “less infectious, does not spread in the air and only close proximity for a prolonged period, skin to skin contact or exchange of body fluids could lead to the infection,” said Dr. Rakesh Mishra, noted scientist and director of Tata Institute for Genetics & Society (TIGS), Bengaluru.

Smallpox vaccine can protect people from getting monkeypox, as viruses causing these disease are closely related. There are at present two FDA-approved vaccines for monkeypox. While there are no approved treatments for monkeypox, the antiviral drugs used for smallpox are likely to be useful here too. Also, prior infection to smallpox or vaccination, which was discontinued in 1978, will offer protection against monkeypox, he explains.

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Dr. Mishra, also the former CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) director, and continues to work in his lab here, said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been right in declaring it as an “emergency” as the virus outbreak was noticed in 75 countries. The spread could be because of stress on the environment where animals and humans are “getting closer” and more travel by people. “It is better to be prudent and keep track of the cases to check for any sudden spike,” he avers.

“Luckily, those infected have had a travel history, so, I do not think there is any social transmission or is spreading within the population as such but children are vulnerable as they have not been inoculated with the smallpox vaccine and also healthcare workers who have to take care of the infected. Otherwise, the elderly are generally protected in this case,” says the scientist.

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World over, about 20,000 cases have been reported and five mortalities - in Africa and one each in Spain and Brazil has been reported, hence, there is no need for “mass vaccination”. Apart from FDA cleared vaccines, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has isolated the virus strains seeking collaboration with private firms for a potential vaccine, he said.  

“We may not hear of this virus in few months but it is important to follow-up every infected, particularly hospitalised patient. We can detect the virus through wastewater surveillance also and that comes into play when the cases run into hundreds in a city. It may be useful to include monkeypox among other infectious agents in such environmental surveillance plans,” adds Dr. Mishra.

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Printable version | Sep 7, 2022 11:17:48 am |