The US public health emergency declaration for monkeypox (mpox) came to an end on Tuesday, as the number of daily new cases reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has steadily dropped over the past month. Although the virus is still present, it is no longer spiraling out of control as it once was. Over 30,000 people in the US have been diagnosed with mpox, with 23 fatalities.
While cases of mpox have decreased globally, they are still on the rise in some South American countries, according to the World Health Organization. The US led the world in mpox cases during the 2022-23 outbreak, however, with Europe, the Western Pacific, and Asia also being affected.
The outbreak has taught the world a lot about this rare and mysterious virus. Prior to the outbreak, doctors had limited doses of a new vaccine, an untested treatment, limited diagnostic testing, and the difficult task of addressing an at-risk population that has been previously ignored and stigmatized. Despite the information gathered during the outbreak, many questions still remain, including the origin of the virus and why it suddenly began spreading from its endemic region in Central and West Africa to more than 100 other countries.
Experts believe that the mpox virus has been spreading for years, with cases steadily building in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since the 1970s. In the DRC, the virus is thought to have originated from contact with an unknown animal host, most likely a rodent, which rural villagers hunt for meat.
In 2017, Nigeria saw a resurgence of the virus after more than four decades without a confirmed case. The outbreak sparked speculation that the virus may have adapted to humans and become more efficiently spread between people. This was confirmed when eight cases of mpox were reported outside of Africa from 2018 to 2021, all in men who had traveled from Nigeria.
In early May 2022, health officials in the UK confirmed the first cases of mpox, with some of the infected individuals having recently traveled to Nigeria and others not, indicating that the virus was spreading in the community. The virus had likely been silently spreading before it was detected.
During the early stages of the US outbreak, the public health response was hampered by limited diagnostic testing and supplies, with many people being unable to get tested for the virus. A new vaccine was available, but most of the doses were not yet in the US and its efficacy against mpox was unknown. There was also an experimental treatment, Tpoxx, but it was difficult to obtain and its effectiveness was unproven.
In conclusion, the 2022-23 monkeypox outbreak has been a challenging and eye-opening experience for the global community. While a lot has been learned about the virus, there are still many mysteries surrounding its origin and spread. The end of the public health emergency declaration marks an important step towards recovery, but the world must remain vigilant in order to prevent future outbreaks of this virus.
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