A mutation strain of monkeypox (mpox) has been identified to be in human-to-human transmission in a mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to a paper published on the pre-print server medRxiv.

Monkeypox virus

The paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, reports on findings from an investigation of a recent outbreak in the densely populated mining town of Kamituga in eastern DRC.

The DRC has been struggling to control a deadly form of mpox known as ’clade 1‘ since 2023. This year, more than 65% of suspected cases and around 85% of suspected deaths were among children under 15 years of age, according to the World Health Organization.

The paper reports on the sudden and unprecedented emergence of a mutated strain of clade 1 mpox in the region, now named ’clade 1b’, citing a total of 241 suspected mpox cases between 29 September 2023 and 29 February 2024. It also highlighted the changing transmission dynamics of the strain which has been predominantly affecting adults, especially sex workers.

“We’re seeing evolutionary changes within the virus that’s suggestive of increased human transmission,” said Dr Jason Kindrachuk, an associate professor in infectious disease at the University of Manitoba, in Canada, and co-author of the paper.

The authors warn of “substantial risk of outbreak escalation beyond the current area and across borders” because the mutations have emerged within Kamituga’s ’highly mobile‘ population. Miners and sex workers frequently travel to and from Kamituga for work, including from the neighbouring nations of Rwanda and Burundi.

These findings raised concerns among health ministers of 12 countries at a meeting convened by the Africa Centres for Disease Control at the end of April.

“[We are] seriously concerned about the changing transmission dynamics, high mortality rate and transmissibility of the monkeypox virus, as well as the morbidity, mortality and social and economic impacts,” an official statement said at the conclusion of the conference.


Further reading

Sustained Human Outbreak of New MPXV Clade I Lineage in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Cong