Monkeypox virus is EVOLVING to be better at infecting people, analysis warns trends now
Scientists fear an even more infectious strain of monkeypox could emerge as the tropical virus continues to mutate and spread between people.
Researchers in the UK said the virus was now mutating at a 'much higher rate' than it had in 2018, when only occasional cases were detected.
Their analysis showed mutations were particularly focused on a gene that the human immune system attacks to stop the virus from mutating, helping it dodge immunity.
The team also suggested monkeypox, or mpox, had been circulating in humans since at least 2016 — or six years before the current outbreak.
The above graph shows mpox infections in the US across 2022, when the country faced an outbreak of the tropical virus
And above are the cases that were recorded in 2023. They are far below the numbers they were
The above map shows the number of monkeypox cases detected across 2022 and 2023 by state
The authors from the University of Edinburgh, wrote in the paper: 'Although the B.1 lineage acros the world is now diminished — though not yet eradicated — the human epidemic from which it arose continues unabated.'
They added: 'These observations of sustained Mpox transmission present a fundamental shift to the perception of mpox... as an [animal-to-human spill over].
'They highlight the need for revising public health messaging around mpox as well as outbreak management and control.'
As a virus spreads between people and makes more copies of itself, it raises the risk of new mutations emerging which could make the strain better able to transmit or more dangerous.
In their study, published in the journal Science, researchers compared mpox sequences from 2018 to 2022 and found the rate of mutations had increased rapidly which they said suggested 'sustained human-to-human transmission'.
They found mutations were focused on the area of the genome targeted by the human immune system enzymes known as APOBEC3.
These are able to change bases within a genetic code inhibiting the ability of a virus to replicate.
The scientists said the repeated changes to this gene also