The monkeypox virus is related to small pox that was eradicated in the 80s. The small pox vaccine also offers protection against this disease. “It’s a lifelong protection” says Van Ranst.
The virus is passed on by close contact, but it’s unclear whether being in the same room as an infected person is sufficient to get infected. A lot of research is still needed. Van Ranst also confirms monkeypox can be passed on as a result of sexual contacts.
Scientists are now sequencing the virus. It’s already been identified as the West African variant that is ten times less fatal than the Central African one.
Prof Van Ranst confirms production of small pox vaccines resumed in the noughties out of concern for biological terrorism. “Some countries like the US have placed orders. The number of cases at the minute is too small to warrant a vaccination campaign, but that could change”.
Unfortunately, vaccination against chicken pox won’t provide any protection. Monkey pox is a DNA virus, while chicken pox is a herpes virus and is not at all related.
Prof Van Ranst also says there is no reason to think the virus is more contagious among gay men. “The disease is more prevalent among this group in this initial stage, but there is no reason to think the virus has any specialisation. I don’t believe it will remain like this for long: there’s no reason to think other people can’t get it. We shouldn’t make the same mistake as with AIDS”.