Monkeypox is currently a worldwide public health concern affecting countries in West and Central Africa, as well as the rest of the world. The first monkeypox outbreak outside Africa occurred in 2003 in the US. The case was connected to infected rodents that were smuggled into the country from Ghana as pets. Around 70 cases of monkeypox were reported at the time. Due to its infectious nature, it was found to have affected travellers flying in from Nigeria, Israel, the UK, Singapore and the US between the years 2018 and 2022. To date, multiple cases of monkeypox have been discovered in non-endemic countries as of May 2022. Studies are being conducted to learn more about the epidemiology, infection origins, and transmission patterns.
In an interview with Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Abdelhameed, Internal medicine Specialist at Medcare, Omnia Health discussed the causes and cure for monkeypox. We also spoke to Dr. Palat K Menon, Founder and CEO of AstraGene, the UAE’s First Molecular Diagnostics Manufacturing Company about their Monkeypox virus detection kit.
Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Abdelhameed, Internal medicine Specialist at Medcare
What is Monkeypox? Can you tell us about the causes of the infection, and symptoms it presents?
Dr. Abdelhameed: It is an old viral infection that was initially recorded in monkeys in Western and Central Africa that then spread to humans. However, the possibility of human-to-human transmission is less likely to happen when compared to other similar viruses. The mode of transmission is through droplet infection and prolonged direct skin or sexual contact with an infected person. The symptoms of the monkeypox include fever, body pain, malaise, and characteristic skin rashes.
According to the World Health Organization, cases are expected to rise globally. What preventative measures should be taken?
Dr. Abdelhameed: We need to follow the standard precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, which includes the early reporting of any suspected cases and the strict usage of surgical masks in closed and crowded places. In addition, regular usage of disinfectants and hand sanitisers especially after any skin-to-skin contact is vital.
Clinically how does this affect the healthcare community, with COVID still in the picture?
Dr. Abdelhameed: We have learned tremendously from COVID-19 over the last three years, and the knowledge we have gained as healthcare practitioners about the protocols of infection control and standard precautions will help us in controlling any future epidemics. I believe we have now the expertise and infrastructure to prepare us for any future scenario.
During the pandemic, new innovations and tech helped the healthcare community advance. Will these be beneficial during the Monkeypox outbreak?
Dr. Abdelhameed: Level 4 laboratories have now come into the picture and are able to deal with highly infectious samples. We have very well-developed reporting systems that allow the fast isolation of suspected and confirmed cases. Additionally, most hospitals now are prepared with isolation solutions.
Are certain individuals more susceptible to Monkeypox?
Dr. Abdelhameed: Yes. Low immunity patients such as senior individuals, patients with chronic diseases, and people receiving medicine lowering their immunities are more susceptible to infection. However, that is still subjective to the level of exposure the individual has had to an infected patient.
Dr. Palat K Menon, Founder and CEO of AstraGene
Tell us more about AstraGene’s Monkeypox virus detection kit, its certifications and how it works.
Dr. Menon: AstraGene’s Monkeypox virus detection kit is an inhibitor tolerant real-time polymerase chain reaction assay for the qualitative detection of the Monkeypox virus in samples collected from individuals suspected of infection. The assay is a combination of the latest advanced buffer chemistry, PCR enhancers and stabilisers along with antibody-mediated hot-start polymerase, dNTPs and MgCl2. This assay has been designed for highly reproducible, accurate results directly from human blood and pus samples. The kits’ primer and probe sets are designed to detect specific target sequence of TNF receptor gene to identify the Monkeypox virus.
AstraGene manufactures kits that are CE certified, GMP-certified by the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP), and it is manufactured under ISO 13485, as per guidelines set by the World Health Organization. This kit has demonstrated the highest sensitivity among kits available globally.
The clade-specific PCR to distinguish Central African and West African clades is expected to be launched soon. Please elaborate.
Dr. Menon: Monkeypox forms two distinct clades (families) — the Monkeypox Congo Basin clade viruses that are endemic to the Congo Basin (Central Africa), where the human illness typically presents symptoms similar to discrete, ordinary smallpox but with a case fatality rate of approximately 10 per cent in unvaccinated populations; and the Monkeypox West African clade viruses that are isolated in West Africa and appear to cause less severe, interhuman transmissible diseases.
The need for the diagnosis of monkeypox virus, especially the ability to distinguish between the clades is important. AstraGene has designed and made available the first commercial kit globally that distinguishes between the clades. DNA obtained from clinical samples of individuals suspected of Monkeypox infection will be amplified with clade-specific primer probes. This is designed to target and identify distinct sequences in the two clades and help in prognostication and determining clinical outcomes.