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Epidemiologists fear monkeypox outbreak could spread

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An outbreak of monkeypox has hit Central Africa, raising fears among U.S. epidemiologists that the once rare variation of smallpox and cowpox could erupt as a lethal new threat if it undergoes fresh mutations.

Monkeypox was virtually unheard of back in the 1970s, when global vaccination campaigns eradicated smallpox. However, in recent months, the Democratic Republic of Congo reported that new cases had multiplied by a factor of 20. The current strain in circulation is still typically not deadly, but that could change.

"Each infection gives the virus the opportunity to evolve into a more virulent variant," UCLA epidemiologist Anne Rimoin tells The Scientist. "We're worried about what could happen. This study is a warning bell."

Squirrels, rats, mice, shrews, the dormouse and primate species all carry the virus, which had evidently been kept in check by the smallpox vaccine, which is no longer in use. "It's only a matter of time that infected rodents are sold and distributed in larger cities," notes Rimoin.

- here's the article from The Scientist

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