No small cause for alarm

the monkeypox virus is being transmitted among humans more readily than ever before, according to us researchers. Monkeypox is a virus that has symptoms nearly identical to smallpox. Of the 89 people studied in the Democratic Republic of Congo, nearly 73 per cent had been infected by others, according to a team led by Ali Khan, medical epidemiologist at the us C enters for Disease Control and Prevention ( cdc ) in Atlanta ( Science , Vol 277, No 5324).

Monkeypox, mainly transmitted among animals, is sometimes transmitted to humans. Previous studies had shown that the infection dies out quickly since the virus is not easily transmitted. However, 92 cases of infection and three deaths due to monkeypox have been reported in the Congo between February 1996 and February 1997. The trend has alarmed public health experts because only 37 cases were reported in the area between 1981and 1986.

A study conducted by Czechoslovakian epidemiologist Zdenek Jezek and colleagues shows that smallpox vaccinations