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Monkeypox spreading to urban wildlife could lead to repeated outbreaks, shows mathematical modelling study

Monkeypox spreading to urban wildlife could lead to repeated outbreaks, shows mathematical modelling study

Mathematical modelling research in the Faculty of Science, in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada, shows that it would become difficult to control monkeypox (MPX) outbreaks in a metropolitan area if the virus were to spill over into wild animal hosts, such as rodents.

Huaiping Zhu
Huaiping Zhu

MPX can spread human-to-animal and animal-to-human, and a range of animal species are thought to be able to infect humans. A research team led by Professor Huaiping Zhu in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics used a “One Health” approach to model the spread of the MPX virus in humans, considering the potential role of animal hosts such as rodents (e.g., rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, etc.), and transmission of the virus in high-risk human groups, including gay and bisexual men.

Their simulations suggest that the risk of an MPX outbreak remains high, especially in high‐risk groups in the absence of intervention, and may spill over to broader populations. But the risk of outbreaks can be greatly reduced if at least 65 per cent of symptomatic cases can be isolated and their contacts traced and quarantined. Nevertheless, when factoring the existence of an animal reservoir and potential virus evolution, the team observed the possible higher risk of outbreaks with much earlier peaks and multiple waves driven by animal transmission.

“Our modelling suggests that current isolation strategies that are beneficial in mitigating outbreaks in humans may not be sufficient if the virus spreads to animals, and that public health measures for the animal population could be needed,” said Zhu, who is also director of the Centre for Disease Modelling (CDM). “It is vital that we monitor the incidence of MPX in animals to serve as an extra indicator for assessing the risk of MPX epidemics.”

Professor Jane Hefferman.
Jane Heffernan

The CDM research team at York University included postdoctoral Fellow Pei Yuan and PhD students Yi Tan and Liu Yang, and Professor Jane Heffernan in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The research was conducted as part of the One Health Modelling Network for Emerging Infections (OMNI)/RÉseau UNe seule santé sur la modélisation des InfectionS (RÉUNIS), a network led by Zhu and supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Public Health Agency of Canada.

The paper, “Assessing transmission risks and control strategy for monkeypox as an emerging zoonosis in a metropolitan area”, was published in the Journal of Medical Virology.

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