The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that it is crucial to address the spread of monkeypox (mpox) in Africa, as the number of cases of the clade 1b strain initially detected in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to rise.

“There is a critical need to address the recent surge in mpox cases in Africa,” said Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s technical lead for mpox.

This warning follows the publication of a report on pre-print server MedRxiv in May 2024, now available on Nature Medicine, on the sudden and unprecedented emergence of a mutated strain of clade 1 mpox in the DRC known as ‘clade 1b’.

In a report from Reuters, Leandre Murhula Masirika, Research Co-ordinator in the health department of South Kivu province, said that Kamituga hospital is receiving 20 patients with mpox every week.

According to the WHO, a total of 7,851 mpox cases and 384 deaths were reported in the DRC as of 26 May 2024. The most affected provinces in 2024 are Equateur, Sud Ubangi, Sankuru and South Kivu.

An outbreak in the Congo’s South Kivu is raising concerns among scientists since, according to a BBC report, test results of virus samples from the South Kivu area have shown mutations that appear to help the virus circulate among humans.

John Claude Udahemuka of the University of Rwanda has been working on the outbreak in this area and said that the 1b strain “is undoubtedly the most dangerous so far of all the known strains of mpox”.

“Everyone should get prepared and should support the local research and local response,” he said.

The WHO said that the mpox cases in South Kivu, initially detected in Kamituga, have been expanding geographically and currently 19 out of 34 health zones have reported at least one mpox case.

The type of contact reported by cases includes sexual contact and non-sexual direct contact, as well as household and healthcare facility contact. Udahemuka told Reuters that other contact routes require investigation and noted evidence of transmission at schools and from caregiver to child.


Further reading

WHO: Mpox - Democratic Republic of the Congo

Reuters (2024) WHO, scientists call for urgent action on mpox strain

Regulatory Rapporteur (2024) DR Congo mining town sees novel monkeypox strain