The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on March 1 reported two cases of locally acquired mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) in addition to five imported ones. As of Wednesday last week, the number had increased to six imported cases and 10 locally contracted ones.
The patients are all men in their 30s, who reportedly contracted the virus through sexual contact. The CDC said the confirmed cases are not related to one another. The origin of the virus and how it was transmitted remains unclear.
The mpox is a zoonosis — an infectious disease that is transmitted from animals to humans — caused by the mpox virus, genus Orthopoxvirus. Smallpox is also of this genus and can infect humans. Due to their shared genus, studies show that the smallpox vaccine can provide 85 percent cross-protection against mpox.
In Taiwan, the government offered smallpox vaccines to the public until 1979, which means that people aged 45 or older should have been vaccinated. However, for those under 45, the possibility of contracting mpox is relatively high.
The mpox virus was first discovered in central and west Africa in the bodies of some types of rodents, which are considered the virus’ natural reservoir according to academic findings.
Many Taiwanese keep rodents as pets (for example, groundhogs), and I suspect that many of those animals were brought to Taiwan through illegal trade or smuggling. Those pet owners, many of whom are under the age of 45, should be more vigilant about mpox. It is strongly advised that they get vaccinated as soon as possible. It would be unfortunate for a person in their prime to have scarring and discoloration on their face due to mpox lesions.
Liou Pei-pai is a former director of the Taiwan Animal Health Research Institute.
Translated by Emma Liu
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