Pox epidemic in the DRC: 581 deaths since January and record number of cases over a year

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Saturday, November 25, 12,569 suspected cases of mpox (long called monkeypox), including 581 deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from January to November 12, the number highest annual number of infections ever recorded

Pox epidemic in the DRC: 581 deaths since January and record number of cases over a year

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Saturday, November 25, 12,569 suspected cases of mpox (long called monkeypox), including 581 deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from January to November 12, the number highest annual number of infections ever recorded.

“This is the highest number of cases ever reported for a year, some in geographic areas that had never reported mpox cases before, including Kinshasa, Lualaba and South Kivu,” according to a WHO situation report in Geneva.

Concerned by new characteristics of sexual transmission of clade (variant) I of the virus, the WHO is currently leading a joint mission with the DRC Ministry of Health “to assess the situation”.

The disease – first reported in humans in 1970 in the DRC – is characterized by skin rashes, which can appear on the genitals or in the mouth, and can be accompanied by bouts of fever, sore throat or pain in the lymph nodes.

Outbreaks of mpox had been observed, starting in May 2022, in Europe and the United States, apart from the dozen countries in Central and West Africa where the disease has long been endemic, pushing the WHO to declare the maximum alert level on July 23, 2022. On May 11, the WHO lifted the alert, while calling for continued vigilance.

Sexual transmission

This epidemic (driven by clade IIb of the virus) spread primarily due to transmission by sexual contact among men who have sex with men. Transmission can also occur through contaminated objects in particular.

A total of 91,788 laboratory-confirmed cases of mpox, including 167 deaths, were reported in 116 countries and territories from January 2022 to October 31, 2023, according to WHO.

There are two known clades of mpox: clade I and clade II, formerly known as Congo Basin and West African clades.

According to the WHO, the DRC has not reported cases linked to clade IIb during the global outbreak, with only clade I detected in the country. And until last April, no documented cases of clade I sexual transmission had been recorded globally.

But in April, a first outbreak of suspected cases of clade I sexually transmitted mpox was identified in Kenge, approximately 260 km east of Kinshasa. “These new characteristics of sexual transmission [of clade I] now give rise to additional concerns about the continued rapid expansion of the epidemic in the country,” adds the UN agency.