Monkeypox Timeline: Virus had half a century journey to global health emergency

First case of monkeypox appeared in 1970 and after half a century WHO on 23 July has declared the disease a health emergency.

BySumit Jha

Published Jul 24, 2022 | 7:28 PMUpdatedJul 29, 2022 | 11:11 AM

Deceased sample were sent for testing to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune (Creative Commons)

The first ever case of Monkeypox — whose causal virus is related to smallpox — was recorded in humans in 1970 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo).

More than half a century since then, the world has managed to eradicate smallpox, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Monkeypox a global health emergency on 23 July.

Monkeypox has over the past few months been reported in 75 countries, with over 16,000 cases recorded worldwide in that timeframe.

In India, the first case of infection by the animal-to-human (zoonotic) virus was reported in Kerala on 14 July.

1970s: The discovery

The world’s first case of Monkeypox in humans was identified in 1970 in a nine-month-old boy in erstwhile Zaire.

Subsequently, human cases of Monkeypox were reported in several other African countries: Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.

Most cases were reported from the rural and rainforest regions of the Congo Basin.

In 1996-97, an outbreak was reported in DR Congo with a lower case-fatality ratio and a higher-than-usual attack rate.

2003: Outside Africa

In 2003, the first Monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa was in the United States, and was linked to contact with infected pet prairie dogs.

Prairie dogs had been housed with Gambian pouched rats and dormice that had been imported into the US from Ghana.

This outbreak led to over 70 cases of Monkeypox in the US, but no fatality.

2017: Nigeria outbreak

Nigeria experienced a large Monkeypox outbreak in 2007, with over 500 suspected and over 200 confirmed cases, and a case-fatality ratio of approximately 3 percent.

Sporadic cases have been reported in the country since then.

In 2018, Monkeypox was reported in travellers from Nigeria to Israel and the United Kingdom.

In 2019, cases were reported in travellers from Nigeria to Singapore and the United Kingdom.

The current outbreak

In May 2022, multiple cases of Monkeypox were identified in several non-endemic countries, where the patients didn’t have any travel history to Africa.

By 20 May, Britain had recorded 20 cases, mostly among gay men.

In the early days of the outbreak, the WHO counted 80 confirmed cases around the world, in countries like Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.

June 2022: More cases

More than 1,000 confirmed cases of Monkeypox were reported to the WHO in June, including from countries where the virus is not usually present.

On 23 June, a WHO panel met to discuss the threat, but decide that monkeypox did not constitute a global public health emergency yet.

The same month, the United Kingdom announced plans to offer smallpox vaccines to gay and bisexual men with multiple sexual partners.

July 2022: Health emergency

India reported its first case of monkeypox on 14 July in the Kollam district of Kerala, in a man who had returned from the Middle East.

After the virus spread to around 75 countries and infected over 16,000 people, the WHO declared on 23 July Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, because the number of cases had grown fivefold in three weeks.

On 24 July, India’s first case of Monkeypox in a person with no international travel history was reported in Delhi.

‘No need to worry’

Doctors in India have said people need not go into panic mode as Monkeypox cases emerge in the country.

Dr Gagandeep Kang, noted microbiologist and professor at CMC Vellore, told South First, “I don’t think that for Monkeypox, we need to worry very much. We should be watchful.”

Senior virologist Dr Jacob John, former professor at CMC Vellore, said, “In a few other countries, the number of cases is very low and the disease is seen to require intimate contact. There is no reason to worry about it.”

Dr Shahid Jameel, noted virologist and former chief of INSACOG, told South First that human-to-human transmission of Monkeypox is not very efficient.

“This is not a virus that can spread like Sars-CoV-2. So far, it has been seen only in people who have had intimate contact [with those afflicted with Monkeypox],” he explained.