WHO Declares Monkeypox as Global Health Emergency

3,600+ cases of monkeypox virus reported in the united states

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Monkeypox has been designated a global health emergency. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it as such on July 23 amid a spike in cases. Monkeypox is a far milder virus than smallpox.

Molecule of DNA forming inside the test tube in the blood test equipment
According to Dr. Barry Fox, the DNA or RNA genetic material of viruses replicate inside living cells of infected hosts by using the cells’ synthetic machinery. Photo by Connect world / Shutterstock

On July 23, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General for the WHO, overrode a WHO Emergency Committee vote against recommending a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) over monkeypox and declared the disease a global health emergency.

Monkeypox is a disease caused by being infected with the monkeypox virus. The monkeypox virus itself is in the same family as the variola virus, which causes smallpox. However, monkeypox is milder and very rarely fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the West Congo type of the virus is fatal in less than 1% of cases, while the Congo Basin type has a 10% fatality rate. As comparison, COVID-19 currently has a 1.1% fatality rate.

Bacteria survive through growth and division, but viruses hijack our cells and use them to reproduce. In his video series An Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Dr. Barry Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, describes how viruses invade our cells and spread throughout our bodies.

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“Viruses are life forms whose genetic materials—either DNA or RNA—replicate inside living cells using the cells’ own synthetic machinery,” Dr. Fox said. “This leads to the synthesis of components of the virus that are subsequently reassembled, and then transferred to other living host cells, or sometimes to the environment.”

With regard to transferring the virus to the environment, viruses often spread by the microscopic droplets of saliva we exhale when we breathe. Sometimes they can spread via fomites, or objects that have come into contact with the virus. One well-known fomite is dirty playground equipment. COVID-19 rarely spreads through fomites. However, if the painful rash of a person infected with monkeypox comes into contact with an object or a person, the monkeypox virus can be left behind on that object or with that person.

According to the CDC’s website, Monkeypox can spread through direct contact with the infected rash or scabs, “respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact” or physical intimacy. It’s also zoonotic, meaning it can be contracted from infected animals.

But first, a virus like monkeypox needs to invade our cells. It begins by attaching itself to a cell.

“Attachment involves two minimum components: There’s a virus attachment complex, and there are also cellular receptors for the virus,” Dr. Fox said. “Next, the virus enters into the cells. How does the virus get across the cell membranes? Either the virus melts and merges with the cell membrane, or the virus gets swallowed by the cell.”

Once the virus is inside the cell, its reproduction depends on the type of genetic material it possesses: DNA, RNA, or RNA Retrovirus machinery. The DNA in DNA viruses must reach the cell nucleus to take over and begin replication. Humans don’t have RNA, so RNA viruses trick host cells into producing an RNA polymerase, an enzyme which creates an RNA polymer.

Retroviruses carry one copy of a single-stranded RNA, which it copies into a double-stranded DNA spiral helix to replicate. They also bury some of their genetic code in the host cell DNA, leading the host cell to treat the retrovirus as part of its own genome.

An Introduction to Infectious Diseases is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily