Scientists Say Monkeypox Likely Spread for Years Before 2022 Outbreak

For more than half a century, monkeypox was a rare infectious disease confined to one region of the world. A few months ago, that suddenly changed. Scientists are building a picture of what happened.

The explosion of monkeypox around the world is a case study in how infectious diseases can leap from limited circulation to wide geographic spread with just a few chance events. Infectious-disease experts knew that the virus was on the rise in parts of West and Central Africa. All it took for monkeypox to take off around the world was for the virus to get into a group that would give it more opportunities for transmission.

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“You have a virus that was able to establish itself in a dense social and sexual network and transmit efficiently because there’s no immunity,” said Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A gradual decline of herd immunity against the closely related smallpox virus gave monkeypox more possibilities to jump from its natural animal hosts, infection-disease experts say. And one day, years ago, it infected someone who was part of a network with close physical contact between members—maybe a gay man with multiple sexual partners, or a sex worker—allowing it to spread sustainably among humans for the first time, these experts theorize.

That spread likely continued for years, undetected, until someone—or some people—with the virus traveled to large international events in Europe in May. Some attendees caught the virus and brought it back to their home countries, setting in motion the global outbreak that has now infected more than 29,000 people.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal, Denise Roland

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