Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox
The COVID-19 pandemic is still fresh in the minds of the people around the world, so it comes as no surprise that recent outbreaks of another virus are grabbing headlines.
Monkeypox outbreaks have now been reported in multiple countries, and it has scientists paying close attention. For everyone else, numerous questions come to the surface:
- How serious is this virus?
- How contagious is it?
- Could monkeypox develop into a new pandemic?
Below, we answer these questions and more.
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus in the Orthopoxvirus genus which also includes the variola virus (which causes smallpox) and the cowpox virus. The primary symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a distinctive bumpy rash.
There are two major strains of the virus that pose very different risks:
- Congo Basin strain: 1 in 10 people infected with this strain have died
- West African strain: Approximately 1 in 100 people infected with this strain died
At the moment, health authorities in the UK have indicated they’re seeing the milder strain in patients there.
Where did Monkeypox Originate From?
The virus was originally discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in monkeys kept for research purposes (hence the name). Eventually, the virus made the jump to humans more than a decade after its discovery in 1958.
It is widely assumed that vaccination against another similar virus, smallpox, helped keep monkeypox outbreaks from occurring in human populations. Ironically, the successful eradication of smallpox, and eventual winding down of that vaccine program, has opened the door to a new viral threat. There is now a growing population of people who no longer have immunity against the virus.
Now that travel restrictions are lifting in many parts of the world, viruses are now able to hop between nations again. As of the publishing of this article, a handful of cases have now been reported in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and a number of European countries.
On the upside, contact tracing has helped authorities piece together the transmission of the virus. While cases are rare in Europe and North America, it is considered endemic in parts of West Africa. For example, the World Health Organization reports that Nigeria has experienced over 550 reported monkeypox cases from 2017 to today. The current UK outbreak originated from an individual who returned from a trip to Nigeria.
Could Monkeypox become a new pandemic?
Monkeypox, which primarily spreads through animal-to-human interaction, is not known to spread easily between humans. Most individuals infected with monkeypox pass the virus to between zero and one person, so outbreaks typically fizzle out. For this reason, the fact that outbreaks are occurring in several countries simultaneously is concerning for health authorities and organizations that monitor viral transmission. Experts are entertaining the possibility that the virus’ rate of transmission has increased.
Images of people covered in monkeypox lesions are shocking, and people are understandably concerned by this virus, but the good news is that members of the general public have little to fear at this stage.
I think the risk to the general public at this point, from the information we have, is very, very low.
–Tom Inglesby, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security
» For up-to-date information on monkeypox cases, check out Global.Health’s tracking spreadsheet
The Frequency of Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S.
The Maui fire is the latest of many disasters in the U.S. And data shows that frequency of costly weather disasters has increased.
Frequency of Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S.
Wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui have had devastating effects on people, towns, and nature, and the final cost is nowhere near tallied. They are the latest of many climate disasters in the U.S.—and data shows that their frequency has been increasing.
These graphics from Planet Anomaly use tracking data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to show the average number of days between billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. from 1980 to 2022.
NOAA’s database examines billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in America. Total associated damages and costs for each event are adjusted for inflation using the 2023 Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Disasters are categorized as one of seven different types:
- Drought: Prolonged dry spells resulting in water shortages and reduced soil moisture.
- Flooding: Overflow of water inundating land usually due to intense rainfall or melting snow.
- Tropical Cyclone: Intense rotating storm systems known as hurricanes.
- Severe Storm: Includes windstorms and tornadoes, hail, lightning, and heavy precipitation.
- Winter Storm: Heavy snow, freezing rain, and icy conditions impacting transportation and infrastructure.
- Wildfire: Uncontrolled fires consuming vast areas of forests and vegetation.
- Freezes: Sub-zero temperatures damaging crops and infrastructure, such as pipes or energy lines.
The average days between billion-dollar disasters are calculated from the start dates of adjacent events within a single year.
Days Between Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S. (1980‒2022)
Between 1980 and 2022, there were 155 total disasters in the U.S. that cost more than a billion dollars in damages when adjusted for inflation.
And when looking at the average number of days between these billion-dollar events within each year, we can see the decades becoming more and more costly:
|Year||Avg. Days Between Disasters|
Back in the early 1980s, the average interval between these major disasters (within each year) was 75 days. Even more starkly, 1987 had no climate disasters that topped $1 billion in damages, while 1988 only had one.
Fast forward to 2022, and that average window has drastically reduced to a mere 20 days between billion-dollar disasters in the United States.
Breaking Down Billion-Dollar Disasters by Type
Of the 155 disasters tracked through 2022, the majority have been in the form of severe storms including tornadoes, windstorms, and thunderstorms.
The worst severe storms include an outbreak of tornadoes in April 2011 across many central and southern states, with an estimated 343 tornadoes causing a total of $14 billion in CPI-adjusted damages. In August 2020, a powerful derecho—a widespread and intense windstorm characterized by straight-line winds—devastated millions of acres of crops across the Midwest and caused $13 billion in adjusted damages.
But the most expensive disasters so far have been hurricanes. Eight hurricanes top the inflation-adjusted damages charts, with Hurricane Katrina’s unprecedented devastation in 2005 leading with a staggering $194 billion.
Will the U.S. be prepared for more costly disasters going forward? And will climate change continue to accelerate the pace of weather disasters in the U.S. even more?
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