Monkeypox horror as outbreak ‘differs by about 40 mutations’ from last virus sequence

Monkeypox: Dr Chris outlines the main symptoms

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The WHO confirmed over the weekend that there have now been 257 confirmed cases of monkeypox worldwide. As of Friday May 27, there are 101 cases confirmed in England, three in Scotland, one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland, bringing the total since May 7 to 106. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says the risk to the population remains low, but has urged the public to remain vigilant.

As the outbreak develops, more data has become available since the first draft genome sequence was produced from a confirmed case in Portugal and published last week.

Now, Professor Richard Neher has shared the “genomic epidemiology” of the virus on Twitter – showing how it has changed from 1958 to 2022.

He commented: “Poxviruses have low evolutionary rates of around one mutation per genome per year.

“The monkeypox sequences associated with the recent outbreak, however, differ by about 40 mutations from viruses sequenced four years ago.

“This change in mutation pattern likely marks the jump from the original host to humans or an intermediate host where a host enzyme (maybe APOBEC3) might mutate the genome.

“The rate of change increased 10-20-fold and is now around one change per month.”

APOBEC3G is a human enzyme thought to play an important role in anti-viral immunity by mutating and inactivating viral genomes via single-strand DNA editing.

In this way, monkeypox may have been naturally mutated by APOBEC3G during a previous infection of a human patient.

Prof Neher was quick to point out that the “great majority” of the mutations are likely “inconsequential or deleterious” to the virus.

He also said there is “no evidence” of viral adaption.

It comes after researchers at the National Institute of Health in Portugal stated that the virus likely has a “single origin”.

The researchers noted, the outbreak variant appears to be most closely related to viruses associated with the exportation of monkeypox from Nigeria to several countries — including the UK, Israel, and Singapore — back in 2018–2019.

They said that they “cannot discard the hypothesis that the divergent branch results from an evolutionary jump — leading to a hypermutated virus — caused by APOBEC3 editing”.

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Monkeypox is a rare infection that’s mainly found in parts of west or central Africa.

It can be caught from the bites of infected animals or if you touch its blood, body fluids, spots, blisters or scabs.

It is also possible to catch monkeypox by eating meat from an infected animal, and, in rare cases it can be passed from human-to-human.

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