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Monkeypox outbreak: What's the status of vaccine and drugs for treatment?

Monkeypox cases have been reported in 20 countries across the world and have caused concern among health authorities. We analyse the status of vaccines and drugs available for its treatment. 

Devasheesh Pandey Edited by: Devasheesh Pandey New Delhi Published on: May 28, 2022 23:31 IST
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Monkeypox outbreak: The status of vaccine, drugs for treatment

Highlights

  • Monkeypox virus originates in wild animals like rodents and primates and jumps into humans
  • Monkeypox symptoms are mild and most people infected will recover within a few weeks
  • Smallpox vaccines and drugs have shown efficacy in treating Monkeypox

Health authorities around the world have detected around 200 cases of the Monkeypox virus in 20 countries. While people are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, is the world prepared for another viral outbreak?

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people. It belongs to the same virus family as smallpox. Most human cases have been in central and west Africa and outbreaks have been relatively limited.

The illness was first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys — thus the name Monkeypox.

Are drugs needed for Monekypox treatment?

Medicines are not normally needed to treat monkeypox. The illness is usually mild and most people infected will recover within a few weeks without needing treatment. But there are vaccines that can be used to control monkeypox outbreaks, which some countries are already using. And treatments do exist for those who become quite ill from the virus. Due to something called cross-protection, smallpox vaccines also work for monkeypox. Although the world was declared free of smallpox in 1980, many countries keep stocks of smallpox vaccines for emergencies. Smallpox vaccine can be up to 85 per cent effective in stopping infection with the monkeypox virus if it is given before people are exposed to the virus.

Antivirals for Monkeypox treatment 

Some antiviral medications might have the potential to shorten symptoms of Monkeypox and reduce the amount of time a patient is contagious, according to a study. There are currently no licensed treatments for monkeypox and there is limited data on the duration of its contagiousness, with the incubation period ranging from five to 21 days. Tecovirimat is approved in the US for treating smallpox only. It has been tested in healthy humans and shown to stop the smallpox virus in the lab. 

Another antiviral that might be used is cidofovir – an injectable drug licensed in the UK to treat a serious viral eye infection in people with AIDS. Because cidofovir stops smallpox in the laboratory, it could be authorised for emergency use in smallpox or monkeypox outbreaks.

Brincidofovir (brand name Tembexa) is given by mouth and can be prescribed to people of any age. It is also listed as a potential drug for treating Monkeypox.

Smallpox vaccines for Monkeypox treatment

There are two types of smallpox vaccine and can be used for protection from monkeypox also. The main one in this group is ACAM2000, which is approved in the US for protecting people against smallpox. But, ACAM2000 can cause many side effects and shouldn’t be given to at-risk groups, such as pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those with weakened immune systems. People with weakened immune systems, including those with HIV, can get very ill from the vaccine.

The other vaccine is Aventis Pasteur Smallpox Vaccine. It is not formally approved, but can be made available if other supplies run out.

Imvanex, made by Danish biotechnology firm Bavarian Nordic, has been licensed in the European Union for preventing smallpox.

(With inputs from news agencies)