Researchers have raised concerns about a new, deadlier strain of mpox that is causing miscarriages and killing children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This strain, known as clade Ib, has the potential to spread to neighbouring countries, and researchers are urging all nations to prepare for its possible spread before it’s too late.
The clade Ib strain was detected among sex workers in the remote Congolese mining town of Kamituga in September 2022.
Unlike previous outbreaks in the country, where people typically contracted the virus from infected animals, this strain was being transmitted through sexual contact between heterosexuals, according to a report from AFP. Testing revealed that it was a mutated variant of the original strain, and researchers consider it to be “undoubtedly the most dangerous strain so far.”
The new strain has caused more than 1,000 cases in South Kivu province, with over 20 new cases reported every week in Kamituga alone. The mortality rate is alarming, with 5% of adults and 10% of children who contract the strain succumbing to the disease.
Additionally, the strain has been spreading through non-sexual contact between people, including among families and children at school, which marks a significant change from previous outbreaks.
Researchers are deeply concerned about the numerous miscarriages caused by the strain and are investigating its long-term effects on fertility.
The extreme cases seen in hospitals are likely just “the tip of the iceberg,” as many patients may have less severe symptoms. Out of the 384 people who died from all mpox strains in DR Congo this year, more than 60% were children, according to the World Health Organization.
Although clade Ib has not been officially reported outside of DR Congo, researchers suspect that it may have already spread to neighbouring countries, as some infected sex workers came from these nations.
The presence of an international airport in Goma, where the strain was recently declared, heightens the risk of global spread.
Researchers are calling for swift action to contain the outbreak, including the vaccination of local sex workers, although it remains unclear whether existing vaccines will be effective against this new strain.