Why Monkeypox Wasn't Another COVID-19

Why Monkeypox Wasn’t Another COVID-19

When you’ve been through more than two years of a pandemic, it might seem strange to see “disease” and “good news” in the same sentence. But here we are, watching a disease decline, with cautious optimism. Two weeks ago, the World Health Organization announced that cases of monkeypox in Europe had dropped so rapidly that the epidemic there could be eliminated. And while the United States recently saw its first death from monkeypox, cases here dropped 40% in mid-to-late August. In other words, it’s too early to claim victory and dust off your hands, but the situation is improving overall.

This news shows that public health officials – and the public itself – have understood some important things in the fight against this serious disease. But monkeypox is also a reminder that humans will face many potentially dangerous new diseases. COVID was not the first, nor the last. What prevents most diseases from becoming pandemics is as much a matter of luck as it is a matter of human intervention.

This spring, many of us prepared for the worst. Monkeypox seemed mysterious and cases were skyrocketing. But a positive result was not surprising to scientists studying the disease. “One of the challenges I’ve had in public communication is trying to get people to understand that none of us who work in public health thought the sky was going to fall because of monkeypox,” said Jay Varma, professor of population health sciences. at Weill Cornell Medical College. “We were just worried that a lot of people would suffer unnecessarily…because we had a diagnostic test, a drug to treat that and a vaccine to prevent all of that in storage.” In other words, monkeypox was a serious disease that needed special attention to ensure vulnerable groups were protected, but it was unlikely to become the same kind of massive problem as COVID-19.

In August, scientists surveyed more than 800 men who have sex with men, trying to find out how monkeypox – and the education campaigns around it – had affected their lives. According to results published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of the men made significant changes to their behavior. Of the 824 people surveyed, 48% said they had reduced their total number of sexual partners, 50% said they had reduced their occasional sex, and 50% said they had reduced their sex with people they met on dating apps and online. sex clubs. These voluntary behavioral changes and the public health campaigns that inspired them have been particularly crucial in the fight against monkeypox, said Varma and Rodney Rohde, professor of clinical laboratory sciences at Texas State University.

Indeed, other studies have shown that while one-night stands represent only a fraction of daily sex among men who have sex with men – around 3% of daily sex – these interactions are responsible about half of the daily transmissions of monkeypox.

Vaccination campaigns have also been important, but behavioral changes appear to be more widespread in the high-risk community than vaccination has been, Varma said. “The CDC’s original guidance was refreshingly candid, honest, and transparent about the behaviors that put people at greatest risk and the ways you can minimize your risk, without asking yourself if sex is an activity essential to life,” he said.

But if the monkeypox outbreak had happened just a few years ago, it might not have been on anyone’s radar outside of the most affected communities. Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a professor of genetic medicine at Johns Hopkins University who worked at the CDC for 20 years, recalls a former director of the agency often saying that when public health does its job well, we don’t never heard of it.

New diseases are emerging and entering the United States all the time, according to Rasmussen and other experts I’ve spoken with. But SARS-CoV-2 aside, most of them are quickly and effectively stopped thanks to the hard work of public health. “Remember that MERS outbreak…when there were two cases in the United States? she asked, referring to when, in May 2014, a particularly deadly cousin of COVID emerged in unrelated cases in Indiana and Florida. “People were like, ‘I don’t even remember.’ And… it’s because we took care of it.

We are more likely to hear about these illnesses now, as everyone is much more ready to be careful after a few years of COVID. But the reality is that thousands of people across the country are working to make sure these diseases don’t go unnoticed, that the most-at-risk populations are treated, and that we don’t end up constantly marinating in preventable pandemics. That’s the good news.

The bad news: Not all pandemics are preventable. “We were a little lucky [with monkeypox]”, Rohde said. Yes, there is pain and some risk of death, but if and when this disease is nipped in the bud, it will be partly because the virus makes itself relatively easy to prune. This is not a respiratory virus that people can easily transmit to strangers at the bus stop.The mode of transmission, mainly sexual, limits who can spread to whom.The rate of transmission is also different from that of COVID, he said And the mode of transmission means that the virus mainly affects a high-risk group rather than society as a whole, so it is easier to change behavior and administer treatments monkeypox is also a DNA virus, not an RNA virus like SARS-CoV-2, so it mutates less than COVID and can be prevented with older and existing vaccines. epidemics that humans can prevent from turning into p andemias. Of course, scientists and the public have to take action when they appear, but that’s relatively easy to manage.

Most new or new to us diseases that appear will have more in common with monkeypox than with COVID. They will be processed. And you’ll forget you’ve ever seen them on the news. But, eventually, another pathogen will emerge that is more challenging by its nature – another fast-spreading, rapidly mutating respiratory virus that strikes everyone at the same time. “I fear, as we move away from COVID, that we say, ‘This is our pandemic. We don’t need to finance [public health infrastructure] more,” Rasmussen said.

Unfortunately, one of the main lessons from this outbreak of monkeypox and how it was handled is a paradox. You don’t need to assume that every new disease you hear about will be another uncontrollable pandemic, so you can let that tension go. But, at the same time, that doesn’t mean another pandemic won’t happen in your lifetime. Someone has to be at work, paying attention.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, if you’re tired, if you’re done,” Rohde said. “Those [infectious diseases] do not worry. They never get tired. »

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