A new form of mpox that may spread more easily found in Congo’s biggest outbreak

The disease is spread via sex, with most cases by homosexual or bisexual men ...

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo is struggling to contain its biggest mpox outbreak, and scientists say a new form of the disease detected in a mining town might more easily spread among people.

Since January, Congo has reported more than 4,500 suspected mpox cases and nearly 300 deaths, numbers that have roughly tripled from the same period last year, according to the World Health Organization. Congo recently declared the outbreak across the country a health emergency.

An analysis of patients hospitalized between October and January in Kamituga, eastern Congo, suggests recent genetic mutations in mpox are the result of its continued transmission in humans; it’s happening in a town where people have little contact with the wild animals thought to naturally carry the disease.

“We’re in a new phase of mpox,” said Dr. Placide Mbala-Kingebeni, the lead researcher of the study, who said it will soon be submitted to a journal for publication. Mbala-Kingebeni heads a lab at Congo’s National Institute of Biomedical Research, which studies the genetics of diseases.

The lesions reported by most patients are milder and on the genitals, Mbala-Kingebeni said, making the disease trickier to diagnose. In previous outbreaks in Africa, lesions were mostly seen on the chest, hands and feet. He also said that the new form seems to have a lower death rate.

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In a report on the global mpox situation this week, WHO said the new version of the disease might require a new testing strategy to pick up the mutations.

With experts pointing out that fewer than half of people in Congo with mpox are tested, Mbala-Kingebeni said: “The risk is that unless patients themselves come forward, we will have a silent transmission of the disease and nobody will know.”

Mbala-Kingebeni said most people were infected via sex, with about a third of mpox cases found in sex workers. It was not until the 2022 global emergency of mpox that scientists established the disease was spread via sex, with most cases in gay or bisexual men …


IMAGE: Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum are believed by scholars to be the first recorded same-sex couple in ancient history. Their assumed homosexual relationship is based on depictions of the two men standing nose to nose and embracing.

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