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Scientists Travel to Remote Village in Search of Clues to Monkeypox Virus

November 4, 2017 Leave a comment

In this day of globalization, outbreaks of infectious diseases that begin in remote villages in far away countries can reach major cities on any continent in a matter of days.  To complicate matters, animal-borne infectious diseases that jump to humans are on the rise and there is still so much we don’t know about these diseases.

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“Understanding the virus and how it spreads during an outbreak is key to stopping it and protecting people from the deadly disease.” Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post

As an example, reports of monkeypox, a rare but fatal disease, have been on the rise since late last year. Monkeypox is a cousin to the deadly smallpox virus which initially infects people through contact with wild animals (though not necessarily monkeys) which is then spread from person to person. The disease produces a fever and a rash that often turns into painful lesions. Even though most people have never heard of monkeypox, the U.S. government has included it on their list of pathogens with the greatest potential to threaten human health.  

The concern with monkeypox is that there is still so much we don’t know about the disease. However, what we do know is that there is no cure and it is deadly in 1 out of 10 of its victims. 

So, while some parents in the U.S. have spent the year fighting for their right to exempt their children from school-required vaccines, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo Republic, the Central African Republic and, most recently, Nigeria.

But that doesn’t mean monkeypox isn’t a threat to the U.S.  In fact, according to the Washington Post, the U.S. “experienced a monkeypox outbreak in 2003 when an exotic pet dealer imported 800 animals from Africa, including giant pouched rats, dormice and rope squirrels”, some of which were believed to be infected with monkeypox. While the animals were in a facility in Illinois, some of them infected prairie dogs that were later sold as pets and 47 people in six Midwestern states were sickened.

As of January, the Congo Republic of Africa has been experiencing an outbreak of monkeypox that has since spread to at least 88 suspected cases throughout the country, with 6 documented deaths so far.  Out of concern for this outbreak, the Congolese government recently invited researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to their country to help track the disease and train local scientists.

As American scientists traveled deep into the Congo rain forest to a village at the epicenter of the outbreak, a Washington Post reporter and photographer had the rare opportunity to accompany them. Their amazing journey, and the fascinating work that the scientists did there, is featured in a special Washington Post story entitled CHASING A KILLER.

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The article chronicles the trip from Atlanta to the Congo Republic, and details the specific efforts made to sample the animal population and bring those samples back to Atlanta for analysis. Not only does the story unfold like a novel, but the photography captures the primitive conditions and the importance of this continuing work.

Hopefully, readers will appreciate the ongoing efforts that are being made to not only improve global health, but to protect our public health here in America.