Due to intermittent outbreaks in Africa and beyond, monkeypox is a rare viral disease that has received increased attention in recent years. Despite its low prevalence, the disease can have serious consequences and a high mortality risk. Many wonder if a cure for monkeypox is imminent and, if so, how near we are to finding one. This article discusses the current state of monkeypox research, the available treatments, and the possibility of a future cure.
Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease caused by the monkeypox virus, a member of the orthopoxvirus genus. It was first identified in 1958. It predominantly affects rodents and primates, but humans are also susceptible. The virus is comparable to the varicella virus (Variola), but causes milder symptoms in humans. Transmission occurs through direct contact with infected animals or their bodily secretions, as well as through human-to-human transmission via respiratory droplets.
Similar to those of smallpox, the symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle pains, and a rash that develops pustules. The incubation period ranges from 5 to 21 days, and the duration of symptoms is between 2 and 4 weeks. The aggregate fatality rate ranges between 1 and 10%, depending on the location of the outbreak and the accessibility of medical care.
There is no specific treatment or cure for monkeypox at present. Instead, the focus of medical care is on alleviating symptoms and preventing complications. In some cases, the antiviral medication cidofovir has been used experimentally with promising results to treat severe monkeypox infections. However, cidofovir is not approved as a treatment for monkeypox, and its efficacy is uncertain.
Vaccination against smallpox with the vaccinia virus vaccine offers some protection against monkeypox. Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) proclaimed smallpox eradicated in 1980 and discontinued routine vaccination, healthcare workers and others at high risk of exposure to monkeypox are still advised to receive the vaccine.
Advances Towards a Cure
The slow establishment of a treatment for monkeypox is primarily attributable to the disease’s rarity and the limited resources devoted to its study. However, advancements are being made. In recent years, scientists have investigated the possibility of developing a targeted antiviral therapy, similar to those developed for HIV and hepatitis C.
One promising candidate is the antiviral drug tecovirimat (ST-246), which inhibits the replication of orthopoxviruses. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has conferred orphan drug status to the drug for the treatment of smallpox and monkeypox based on promising animal studies. To determine tecovirimat’s potential as a cure for monkeypox, it is still necessary to conduct clinical trials.
Although there is no cure for monkeypox at present, ongoing research into antiviral therapies and a continued emphasis on prevention strategies offer promise for the future. The development of targeted antiviral medications, such as tecovirimat, may provide effective treatment options for patients afflicted with this rare but potentially severe disease. As scientists continue to investigate new avenues for a cure, early detection, public health measures, and vaccination campaigns cannot be emphasised enough.