Warnings issued due to deadly and contagious strain of mpox as children in DRC succumb

A highly transmissible and lethal strain of mpox is causing fatalities among children and miscarriages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), prompting urgent warnings from scientists about its potential international spread.

The virus, more contagious than previous strains, is believed to be transmitting via both sexual and non-sexual contact, ranging from brothels to schools across the South Kivu province. In the town of Kamituga alone, hundreds have sought hospital care, suggesting a potentially larger outbreak underway.

Mpox, akin to smallpox, manifests with flu-like symptoms and pus-filled lesions. Unlike previous outbreaks linked to bushmeat consumption, this mutated form, identified as clade I, is showing a fatality rate of approximately 5% in adults and 10% in children, with significant rates of miscarriages in pregnant women.

Researchers initially anticipated the outbreak to be clade II due to its sexual transmission, similar to a 2022 outbreak in Europe and the US, which prompted a public health emergency declaration. However, genetic testing revealed it belongs to the more virulent clade I.

The outbreak likely originated in a bar frequented by sex workers, emphasizing its potential to spread rapidly. Professor Trudie Lang of Oxford University described the situation as “incredibly worrying,” noting the absence of specific vaccines and treatments in the DRC, unlike the control measures applied during the previous outbreak.

Given South Kivu’s proximity to Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, where cross-border travel is frequent, the risk of further spread is heightened. Experts underscore the need for vigilance, early detection, and robust local responses to contain and prevent further transmission of this dangerous virus.

John Claude Udahemuka from the University of Rwanda emphasized the urgency for global preparedness and support for local research and responses to mitigate the potential impact of this outbreak.

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