The Spread of Monkeypox and Other Diseases in a Post Covid World
With diseases like monkeypox on the rise and the first case of polio in the United States in over a decade, we're seeing a rise in diseases we believed were long gone or would never come to our shores.
Whether these diseases are making a comeback or are appearing for the first time, what exactly is contributing to their seemingly sudden (and quick) spread? Vaccine hesitancy, stronger mutations and even climate change play a part in their resurgence.
What Is Monkeypox? And How Is It Spreading?
Monkeypox wasn't considered a pandemic when its most recent outbreak began in May 2022. At that point, there were just a few cases outside of Africa. Health officials believed that it would be containable, but as of Nov. 17, 2022, there were 29,055 cases of monkeypox in the U.S., and they continue to rise rapidly.
The monkeypox virus spreads by direct skin-to-skin contact and, rarely, by respiratory droplets during close contact or by contact with contaminated objects (such as clothing) and infected bodily fluids. It's a zoonotic disease, which means it is a disease transmitted from animals to humans. It is caused by various factors, including climate change — rising temperatures cause animals to change their habitats to survive, making them more likely to live where humans do.
The current monkeypox strain in non-African countries (where it is endemic) has more mutations than the one that caused an outbreak in Nigeria in 2019. These mutations are said to increase transmission significantly. Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches and chills, as well as a rash or sores.
The U.S. Had Its First Polio Case in Over a Decade
Between February and June 2022, the polio virus was found in London, England's wastewater. While most polio infections are asymptomatic, and no cases have been reported in the U.K. thus far, scientists are worried, as there are some communities in the city with vaccination rates lower than 90 percent.
In July 2022, health officials in New York state announced the first case of polio in the U.S. since 2013. The unvaccinated man contracted the disease from someone outside the U.S.
Polio is caused by a virus — in some cases, it attacks the spinal cord nerves and causes paralysis. And like all viruses, it continues to mutate. People who are vaccinated are fine, but those that aren't may faces certain health issues in the future.
Diphtheria Has Emerged in Australia
In June 2022, two children were diagnosed with respiratory diphtheria in New South Wales, Australia. It was the state's first case of the illness in the 2000s. The children were hospitalized with one in intensive care.
Diphtheria is caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a toxin-producing bacterium. Diphtheria of the skin causes ulcers or sores; however, this illness generally does not cause severe disease. Respiratory diphtheria symptoms include a sore throat, swollen neck glands fever and weakness. If the disease reaches the bloodstream, its affects the kidneys, nerves and heart.
UNICEF Australia senior vaccine advisor Chris Maher believes these cases are an early red flag to vaccination hesitation and a lower level of immunity in the general population. "[Diphtheria] is a disease we associate with an older time. We don’t associate it with our society now because we know if we vaccinate people we stop it from occurring.
"The fact that it has popped up again should be a shock to us and should be something that encourages us as a community to achieve high levels of vaccine coverage so we protect our kids.”
Whooping Cough Is Also on the Rise Around the World
The U.K. has seen a steep climb in whopping cough cases over the past 20 years. From 2005 to 2011, there were 6,216 cases in the county. From 2012 to 2018, there were nearly 26,000.
Also known as pertussis, whopping cough is highly contagious and has symptoms like the common cold in the beginning. However, after about two weeks, thick mucus accumulates inside the airways, causing a prolonged, hacking cough that ends with a high-pitched "whoop" as the person takes in air.
Whooping cough is typically thought to be a children's disease, but adults can have it without knowing it. It causes 160,000 deaths around the world per year, half of which are children.
The reason for the case increase? The current vaccine is less effective, and fewer people are getting vaccinated. It is also on the rise in the U.S. for the same reasons.
Despite Being Eliminated Stateside, There Have Been Measles Outbreaks in Recent Years
In 2000, measles was officially declared eliminated in the U.S. However, thousands of cases have been reported ever since. In 2019, an unvaccinated patron vacationing in Disneyland infected 300 people who were in the park at the same time.
The disease is extremely contagious, and the World Health Organization states that cases spiked by 80 percent at the start of 2022 as compared to the year before. People who are unvaccinated against measles are also unvaccinated against mumps and rubella — all three of these vaccines are grouped together in what is known as an MMR vaccine.
According to JAMA, measles vaccine refusal even creates a risk of the diseases in the vaccinated, as no vaccine is 100 percent effective.
On Top of Everything Else, We're Not Entirely Done with COVID
COVID continues to surge around the world, as the extremely contagious BA.5 subvariant is now the dominant strain.
Cases have risen again, and hospitalizations and deaths have also increased, as BA.5 is evading immunity from previous infections and vaccines. In other words, people are getting infected again and again. Hospitals are also suffering under this recent surge with staff turnover and worker burnout and illness.
The numbers of the infected may even be higher, as people are testing at home and not reporting their results. Mask wearing and vaccination in the event you catch COVID will lessen your chances of serious illness and hospitalization.