N.L. virologist doesn't think monkeypox will be next pandemic, but wants it contained by fall

·3 min read
Rodney Russell, a professor of immunology and virology with Memorial University, says if monkeypox was going to be the next pandemic, it'd have happened by now. (CBC - image credit)
Rodney Russell, a professor of immunology and virology with Memorial University, says if monkeypox was going to be the next pandemic, it'd have happened by now. (CBC - image credit)

Rod Russell, a professor who studies viruses at Memorial University in St. John's, hopes monkeypox is contained by this fall when children return to school, but he doesn't think it's another pandemic in the making.

"If this was going to be any kind of a pandemic, it would have already done so," Russell told CBC's Crosstalk.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported its first probable case of the disease on Thursday. It's unknown where the case is located in the province or how the virus arrived, but Public Health said many viruses enter the province through travel.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Tam says the virus is primarily spreading between men who have sex with men, but she cautions about associating it with the LGBT community because anyone can contract it.

Monkeypox spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids or lesions of infected animals or people and from respiratory droplets from infected people.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

As people continue to shake off the COVID-19 pandemic, Russell said thoughts of another virus circulating can make people feel overwhelmed.

Still, Russell doesn't think the monkeypox virus will lead to lockdowns like the coronavirus did.

"The big difference is this virus doesn't spread like COVID. It spreads in very close contact," he said.

It's that close contact that worries Russell, though, especially when it comes to children.

"If this is still circulating at… significant levels in the fall when kids go back to school, then we could have a different problem." Russell said.

"They'll pass it to each other and they'll bring it back to their families. So I'd like to contain this before the fall, if possible."

Russell said the arrival of monkeypox in the province is inevitable and people need to pay attention to it because cases are rising. Since January, 745 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Canada as of Wednesday afternoon, up from 604 the previous week.

Public Health said Thursday it will vaccinate people who are close contacts of the person with Imvamune, a smallpox vaccine that offers some protection against the virus.

Russell said the vaccine has given inoculated people up to 50 years of protection.

"The smallpox vaccine is one of our shining stars," he said.

"[We] literally eradicated the virus from the planet with that vaccine. And turns out people still have immunity."

Russell says he'd also like to see health-care staff and other frontline workers vaccinated for monkeypox.

"It's still a nasty virus that can infect you, make you sick, can scar your skin," he said. "Nobody wants that, nobody wants to see their child with that virus," he said.

Monkeypox symptoms include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and lethargy, followed by the development of a rash. The virus has spread to more than 70 countries, according to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

The virus can take anywhere from six to 21 days to incubate in a person's body, and people are infectious five days before the onset of the rash.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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