Expert Says Monkeypox Outbreak was Avoidable, Virus Was 'Potential Problem for Decades'

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As monkeypox cases rise across the country and worldwide, experts who have studied the virus are criticizing the response from health officials, claiming the current global outbreak was avoidable.

Dr. Anne Rimoin, UCLA epidemiology professor who spent two decades in the Democratic Republic of Congo studying monkeypox, spoke to NPR and detailed the missteps from world leaders, stating there was only a global response to monkeypox when it spread beyond Africa.

"This virus has been spreading in marginalized and vulnerable populations [in Africa] for decades, and we've done nothing about it," Rimoin told the outlet. "We have known that monkeypox is a potential problem for decades."

There are currently 9,200 confirmed monkeypox cases across 63 countries, according to the World Health Organization. As of Tuesday, there are 929 confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2022 Monkeypox Outbreak Global Map. However, Rimoin said there is likely an undercount due to a lack of testing.

The virus is named monkeypox because it was first identified in 1958 in colonies of monkeys. The first human case of the virus was found in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the CDC.

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RELATED: CDC Issues New Guidance on Monkeypox Symptoms as Cases Rise in the United States

Cases have mostly been concentrated in the Congo — which typically sees thousands of monkeypox infections a year — and Nigeria, where there have been more than 200 suspected and 500 reported cases since 2017, according to WHO. In the Congo, around 1 in 10 people who contract monkeypox die, but that is not the case in the U.S., where no one has ever died due to the virus.

Rimoin said there should have been more efforts to address the virus in rural Africa earlier on due to possibilities it could easily spread through travel.

"If we do want to get in front of emerging infectious diseases, we are going to have to prioritize dealing with emerging global disease threats at the site where they are spreading early on," Rimoin said, per NPR. "We are totally interconnected by trade and travel, population growth, population movement, and we cannot make the mistake again of thinking that an infection that's happening somewhere in a remote area of the world isn't going to affect us right at home."

"We will continue to be chasing behind them, and always be paying the price for not doing what's needed ahead of time," she added. "The good news is we have vaccines, we have therapeutics, we know a fair amount about this virus. The bad news is now we have to get the logistics together to be able to confront it head on."

Monkeypox first causes fever, headache, muscle aches, chills and swollen lymph nodes, and after one to three days patients develop a rash that spreads over the body and turns into fluid-filled lesions. The rare virus can spread through respiratory droplets, but is most likely to transmit from touching body fluids or the rashes.

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced vaccinations will now be available to anyone with presumed exposure to the virus, in addition to individuals with known exposure who were already being offered immunizations.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the department will release 56,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine immediately, with an additional 240,000 doses being made available in the coming weeks. In total, 1.6 million doses of the vaccine are expected by the end of the year.