The summer of 2022 might be remembered as a time when the proverbial canary in the coal mine sang a few wrong notes. In July, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency after more than 16,000 monkey pox infections have been confirmed in 75 countries worldwide. By early next month, California, Illinois and New York had also declared public health emergencies, and some experts believed a new pandemic had already begun in the United States. On August 4, US officials declared a national public health emergency, leaving millions to fear they might catch a disease known to cause pustules to appear all over their bodies.
It was only two months ago. To date, the seven-day average for new monkeypox infections is one-seventh of what it was at its peak in early August. Why?
“We warn that a declining epidemic can be the most dangerous epidemic because it can make us think the crisis is over and let our guard down.”
There is no single reason for the decline of monkeypox, although existing vaccines have played a leading role. Indeed, the two vaccines that already existed against the virus proved to be effective. Additionally, the virus spreads primarily through close contact, meaning it did not have the easy transmissibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19).
Additionally, because the virus primarily affected gay and bisexual men with multiple partners, its spread was reduced when individuals in these communities began to take more safety precautions – and a vaccination campaign played a huge role. Likewise, as Pride month celebrations died down, there were fewer instances of casual sex to facilitate the spread of the disease.
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Not all experts agree with the most optimistic assessments of the future of monkeypox. Indeed, some experts warn that celebrations of a non-pandemic could be premature.
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Noted that their organization has recorded more than 70,000 cases of monkeypox and 26 deaths. Although cases are falling around the world, 21 countries recorded an increase in the previous week – and 90% of these countries were in North or South America.
“It’s not something that we’re going to see go away in a few weeks or months, but it’s something that if we keep the pedal to the metal, so to speak, we should be able to get to a point where we have a very good epidemic control potential…”
“Once again, we warn that a declining epidemic can be the most dangerous epidemic because it can make us think the crisis is over and let our guard down,” Ghebreyesus explained. “That’s not what the WHO is doing. We continue to work with countries around the world to increase their testing capacity and to monitor outbreak trends.”
American policymakers are equally wary of premature declarations of triumph. Demetre Daskalakisthe White House Deputy National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, told reporters in September that this was a “long game” situation.
“It’s not something that we’re going to see go away in a few weeks or months, but it’s something that if we keep the pedal to the metal, so to speak, we should be able to get to a point where we have a very good epidemic control and the ultimate goal being that we don’t have endemicity in the U.S. But that means investing,” Daskalakis explained.
To protect yourself from monkeypox, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge people to clean their homes thoroughly, avoid having their pets come into close contact with people with monkeypox, and only have safe sex. The CDC has also urged people to get the monkeypox vaccine if they haven’t already. The monkeypox vaccine is also effective in controlling smallpox, which is a similar disease.