New mutant strain of monkeypox with ‘pandemic potential’ is discovered in Congo village – as health officials call for ‘urgent measures’ to contain it

A mutant strain of monkeypox with ‘pandemic potential’ has been found in a town in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The virus is a descendent of the deadlier clade 1 mpox strain, but has evolved to become even more infectious and better at evading tests than its predecessor.

The concerning discovery was made in Kamituga – a poor, densely populated gold mining town that is feared to be ripe for an explosive outbreak. So far there have been 108 cases.

Researchers who detailed the virus in a pre-print have called for ‘urgent measures’ to contain the virus and avoid a global outbreak.

The new virus is spreading in Kamituga. The town is feared to be ripe for an explosive outbreak (stock)

‘Without intervention, this localised Kamituga outbreak harbors the potential to spread nationally and internationally,’ the authors wrote.

‘Given the recent history of mpox outbreaks in DRC, we advocate for swift action by endemic countries and the international community to avert another global mpox outbreak,’ they add.

The researchers are concerned that the ‘highly mobile’ population of Kamituga could be the perfect breeding ground for the new virus.

Miners and sex workers frequently travel to and from the town for work from neighboring countries like Rwanda and Burundi.

And ‘many people with mpox symptoms remain in the community and do not seek care’, the authors wrote.

The pre-print warns that the ‘local healthcare infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle a large-scale epidemic’ 

The experts have called for the roll out of vaccines and drugs and for heightened surveillance and contact tracing measures to be deployed in the area.

Mpox caused an international epidemic in 2022 when it spread to more than 100 countries and killed hundreds of people – including 58 Americans.

That outbreak was caused by the more mild clade 2 strain, which is rarely fatal. 

For the past year, the DRC has been struggling to contain a deadlier version of the virus known as ‘clade 1’, which kills up to 10 per cent of those infected.

The new mutant strain – named ‘clade 1b’ – appears to be just as deadly. Of the 108 cases, there have been two deaths.

It is believed to have emerged sometime between July and September 2023 in animals and jumped to animals.

As it spread in Kamituga it acquired new mutations that helped it spread – especially among sex workers.

Nearly 30 percent of cases were among sex workers, suggesting the virus spreads in a similar way to the one that caused the 2022 outbreak.

Some 85 per cent of people had genital lesions, while 10 per cent were hospitalized.

The research was led by Congolese scientists in collaboration with experts across Africa, Europe, the US and Canada.

The findings were discussed by the ministers of health of 12 countries at a meeting convened by the Africa Centres for Disease Control last week, The Telegraph reports.