Monkey pox: “We are on a ridge line. We are witnessing something that must be monitored”

Mylène Ogliastro, virologist at Inrae, and Marisa Peyre infectiologist at CIRAD in Montpellier, decipher the phenomenon.

“No panic”insists Mylène Ogliastro, virologist at Inrae Montpellier. “No alert”adds Vincent Foulongne, head of the virology laboratory at Saint-Eloi hospital in Montpellier, “ready to put in order if necessary”. While the symbolic milestone of 100 cases of “Monkeypox” was reached on Monday, and Belgium now imposes a three-week confinement on those infected. But Montpellier scientists reassure: “Honestly, I’m not very worried. The West African form that is circulating has a lethality of 1% to 5%”, indicates Jacques Reynes, the head of infectiology at the Montpellier University Hospital, on the front line in the Covid pandemic. In its progress report published on Monday, the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) considers that the risk of contagion is “very weak”.

Fevers, headaches, muscle aches, then rashes and scabs… the clinical picture of the pathology does not worry, even if there is a risk for children and immunocompromised people.

Mylène Ogliastro: “Today, 2000 viruses and bacteria pass from animals to humans”

“it does not worry yet, it surprises”slips Mylène Ogliastro, who recalls the now well-known phenomenon of zoonoses, these diseases of animal origin which represent 75% of emerging diseases in humans according to CIRAD, a research organization based in Montpellier. “This is what is happening all the time: today, 2000 viruses and bacteria pass from animals to humans”says Mylène Ogliastro.

Something different happened with “Monkeypox”, this smallpox discovered for the first time in a laboratory monkey, and identified in humans in 1970, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, endemic since in East Africa. West. In 2003, there was a small alert in the United States: 70 cases. And sporadic episodes have been regularly spotted in the UK.

“We know this virus well, we can monitor it in detail, and this is what is done in particular in the United States in the context of the fight against bioterrorism, with particular concern about smallpox viruses. “, says Mylène Ogliastro. What’s going on today? “We can think that it is different, since there are more cases than so far on average. All it takes is a small change in the sequences”notes the scientist.

The sequencing of the virus in Portugal, on the front line with 37 cases identified, shows that “it is a close relative of the virus described in 2018-2019 in Nigeria”. According to her, “it’s probably been circulating very quietly ever since”.

Should we therefore trigger a commotion? “The scientific community is hesitant and afraid of getting caught,” underlines the Montpellier. Who does not have in mind the very reassuring messages of the early days of the future Covid pandemic? “We are on a ridge line. We are witnessing something that must be watched”. And, above all, alerts us once again to the risk of new crises to come if we do not change our behavior.

Marisa Peyre, epidemiologist at CIRAD Montpellier: “We need to strengthen surveillance”

Marisa Peyre, epidemiologist at CIRAD Montpellier, is one of the coordinators of the international Prezode program, an international cooperation program to prevent the transmission of viruses of animal origin to humans. For her, the threat of monkeypox is a new alert, while the Pasteur Institute has been monitoring this virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2019: “Our colleagues today recall how little interest, for three years, with few means, the disease has been neglected”, she laments, knowing that a “signal” had already been lit. “The virus has been circulating for a long time in Central Africa and West Africa, sporadically. But since 2017, a new phenomenon had appeared, the epidemic was continuing in Nigeria”, recalls the Montpellier. She keeps repeating the same message: “We must strengthen the surveillance of emerging viruses at the source, and give the countries concerned the means to fight. It’s doable, we know the solutions, but it’s confidential. “. But she notes with relief that “we are more sensitive to these questions since the Covid crisis”.

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