As with the coronavirus, for example, there are different pathogen variants of monkeypox, which is spreading worldwide and originally comes from Africa. There are strains that are genetically similar in West Africa and in Central Africa as well.
A distinction is therefore made between the Central African and West African variants – named after the regions of origin of the virus, which originates from animals and was first identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The two roughly differentiated monkeypox variants are different dangerous for humans.
It remains to be seen whether – similar to Corona – other names will soon prevail for the variants that do not have regional designations that invite discrimination.
As of May 22nd, a West African pathogen variant was identified in all samples of monkeypox genetically analyzed from May. This can be seen as good news: the West African variants can also result in severe courses, but according to health authorities they usually only cause mild courses.
As the German Press Agency learned from Clemens Wendtner, the chief physician for infectiology at the Munich Clinic Schwabing, the West African monkeypox variants have a mortality rate of around one percent, especially in children under the age of 16. Wendtner also cautions that “this data from Africa cannot necessarily be transferred to the healthcare system in Europe or the USA, the mortality rate would be lower here. This is a disease that, in my opinion, does not have the potential to pose a massive threat to the population.”
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) writes that West African virus variants are significantly less virulent than those in Central Africa. According to the definition of the German Center for Infection Research, virulence describes the ability of a pathogen to cause a disease. In 2003, when monkeypox was first detected outside of Africa, there were no human-to-human transmissions or deaths. It is assumed that it was a less virulent West African virus variant at the time.
According to the information available so far, the Central African variants appear to be more dangerous. According to an RKI publication from 2019 (“Infection of humans with monkeypox”), the mortality rate is eleven percent of those infected. Like Clemens Wendtner, however, the RKI points out that this information on the death rates should not be transferred to countries with good medical care – such as Germany. In addition, the Central African variants – as described above – do not currently appear to be spreading worldwide.
So far, monkeypox has mainly affected people in West and Central Africa. Since the first known case from England in May 2022, reports of further infections in Europe or beyond have been increasing every day. So far, the voices from the health sector and research can be summed up in such a way that precise observation and limitation are now required – however, a great danger for the general population in Germany and other western countries is not assumed to date.
This is also related to the transmission of the virus, which originally probably originated in rodents. In contrast to the corona virus, for example, according to the RKI, people do not usually become infected with monkeypox from other people over long distances and through the air, but through very close physical contact, such as happens during sex.