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Monkeypox: Another pandemic on the horizon?

By Ava Zardynezhad, June 15 2022

Just when we thought we might have reached the promised “new normal” and started taking our “the end is nigh” signs down, nature struck back with yet another virus with the potential of devastating the world. Earlier in May of 2022, a cluster of cases of the monkeypox virus in the UK, Spain and Portugal alarmed the world. Since then, the virus has spread to Canada, rapidly spreading in Québec before making its way to Alberta. 

As the virus spreads, so does the fear of a second pandemic. So what’s the deal? Will this monkeypox outbreak result in a new pandemic? 

If there’s anything I’ve learned from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is to be a hopeful realist. The realities are that the monkeypox virus is one very similar to the smallpox virus — and not at all like the chickenpox virus, despite the similar common names — that is transmitted from person to person through skin lesions, bodily fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated surfaces and material. Infections can be more severe in children and other vulnerable populations, however no deaths outside of endemic areas have been reported in the current outbreak. In the past, the smallpox vaccine has been protective against the monkeypox virus, however, no one has been vaccinated for smallpox in Canada since the 70s. Another reality is that due to limited surveillance, we’re not sure about the extent of transmission of this virus. 

Though the virus has been spreading in countries to which it isn’t endemic, the World Heath Organization (WHO) expresses low levels of concern for these outbreaks becoming a pandemic. However, another reality is that no one can tell for sure. 

Now, to be a hopeful realist is to consider that we’re ahead of the game with monkeypox — a luxury we didn’t have with the COVID-19 pandemic. Recovering from a pandemic, the work is still mostly following precautions, personal protective measures and social distancing recommendations. These are helpful in limiting the spread of any infectious diseases within the population, as close contact is the most common method of transmission. Moreover, the smallpox vaccine has a 85 per cent effectiveness against the monkeypox virus, which is helpful, because it means we’ve not been thrown in the middle of this outbreak with no protective measures — as opposed to the COVID-19 pandemic where there was no vaccine available against the virus until nearly a year after outbreaks. Lastly, we have already experienced a global pandemic once in the recent years, so to think hopefully is to trust that public health professionals and political leaders have sufficient experience to guide us through another pandemic — if it comes to that — and to ensure we can come out of this in better conditions than with the COVID-19 pandemic. To think realistically would result in more bleak outcomes. 

All in all, as a hopeful realist, I will take the WHO’s words of reassurance, but I will also consider the possibility of everything getting out of hand. 

Pandemic or not, one lesson that this outbreak and the conditions of our recent years have taught us is the importance of practicing global sustainability and eco-protection in the prevention of infectious disease. In recent years, we’ve been seeing more widespread outbreaks. In the last month, we’ve also seen severe cases of hepatitis rise in children across Canada. Changing weather patterns and changes to natural ecosystems can increase the rate of incidence of infectious diseases. Things as seemingly insignificant as changing migration patterns of animals, to more eco-anxiety-inducing melting permafrost can increase the rate of infections and variation in infective microbial species. Until environmental health and global sustainability are taken seriously, we must brace ourselves for more outbreaks and pandemics to come.

This article is part of our Opinions section

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