Monkeypox: “We are on a tightrope. We are witnessing something that needs to be monitored”

Mylène Ogliastro, virologist at Inrae, and Marisa Peyre, infectiologist at CIRAD in Montpellier, decode the phenomenon.

“No panic”emphasizes Mylène Ogliastro, virologist at Inrae Montpellier. “No alarm”adds Vincent Foulongne, head of the virology laboratory at the Saint-Eloi hospital in Montpellier. “ready to fix if needed”. While the symbolic milestone of 100 “monkeypox” cases was reached on Monday, Belgium is now imposing a three-week prison sentence on those infected. But Montpellier scientists reassure: “Honestly, I’m not too worried. The West African form that is in circulation has a lethality of 1% to 5%.”, indicates Jacques Reynes, head of infectiology at the Montpellier University Hospital, on the front lines of the Covid pandemic. In its progress report published on Monday, the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) assumes that there is a risk of infection “very weak”.

Fever, headache, muscle pain, then rashes and scabs … the clinical picture of the pathology is harmless, even if there is a risk for children and immunocompromised people.

Mylène Ogliastro: “Today 2000 viruses and bacteria passed from animals to humans”

“it doesn’t worry yet, it surprises”Mylène Ogliastro slipped, recalling the now well-known phenomenon of zoonoses, those diseases of animal origin which, according to CIRAD, a research organization based in Montpellier, account for 75% of new human diseases. “It happens all the time: today 2000 viruses and bacteria are passed from animals to humans”says Mylene Ogliastro.

Something else happened with “monkeypox,” that smallpox first discovered in a laboratory monkey and identified in humans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970 and has since been endemic to East Africa. In 2003 there was a small alert in the United States: 70 cases. And sporadic episodes have been spotted regularly in the UK.

“We know this virus well, we can monitor it in detail, and this is being done in particular in the United States in the context of countering bioterrorism, with particular concern for smallpox.”, says Mylene Ogliastro. What’s up today? “We can imagine that it’s different because there are more cases on average than before. A small change in the processes is enough.”remarks the scientist.

That shows the sequencing of the virus in Portugal, on the front line with 37 identified cases “it is a close relative of the virus described in Nigeria in 2018-2019”. according to her “since it’s probably been circulating very quietly”.

So should we start a riot? “The scientific community is hesitant and afraid of being caught,” highlights the Montpellier. Who does not remember the very reassuring messages of the early days of the future Covid pandemic? “We are walking a tightrope. We are witnessing something that needs to be observed”. And, above all, draws our attention again to the danger of new crises if we do not change our behavior.

Marisa Peyre, epidemiologist at CIRAD Montpellier: “We need to step up surveillance”

Marisa Peyre, epidemiologist at CIRAD Montpellier, is one of the coordinators of the international program Prezode, an international collaborative program aimed at preventing the transmission of viruses of animal origin to humans. For them, the threat of monkeypox is a new warning, while the Pasteur Institute has been monitoring this virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2019: “Our colleagues today remember how little interest they had in the disease for three years with few resources neglected “The virus has been circulating sporadically in Central and West Africa for a long time. But a new phenomenon had appeared since 2017, the epidemic continued in Nigeria,” she laments, knowing full well that a “signal” had already been lit Montpellier, repeating the same message over and over again: “We must step up surveillance of emerging viruses at the source and give affected countries the means to fight it. It’s doable, we know the solutions, but it’s confidential.” relieved that “we have been more sensitive to these issues since the Covid crisis”.

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