Jasmin Schlotterbeck, Freie Universität Berlin

Identifying the Zoonotic Reservoir of Monkeypox

Emerging infectious diseases often have their origin in zoonotic transmissions from wildlife reservoirs. Since habitat destruction, particularly in biodiversity rich regions, can have a strong impact on the risk of pathogen transmission between species, it is important to take into account not only human but also animal and environmental health. The importance of this One Health approach has also been emphasized in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In recent years, the global importance of monkeypox virus as a human pathogen has been highlighted by an increase in cases observed in its endemic areas in West and Central Africa, as well as imported cases in Europe, Asia, and the USA. In addition to habitat loss and poaching, infectious diseases such as monkeypox also constitute a threat for the survival of sylvatic populations of non-human primates.

Monkeypox virus belongs to the family of Poxviridae, as does variola virus, the now eradicated, causative agent of smallpox. Symptoms of human monkeypox are characterised by a rash similar to that of smallpox. However, in an outbreak in western chimpanzees also purely respiratory symptoms have been observed. Monkeypox virus is divided in two genetically distinct clades: the West African clade (MPXV-WA) and the Congo Basin clade (MPXV-CB), with the Congo basin clade considered to be more virulent.

Even though monkeypox virus has been known to science for more than 60 years, little is known about its reservoir in wildlife and zoonotic transmission pathway, and even its clinical presentation has not been described conclusively. Although it has been detected in various small mammal species, the virus has only been isolated from a Thomas’ rope squirrel, a sooty mangabey and a western chimpanzee.

In this doctoral project I want to investigate the question of its reservoir in wildlife. To gain a comprehensive understanding, clinical samples from patients in endemic areas will be investigated for monkeypox. Additionally, samples from sylvatic chimpanzees in Côte d’Ivoire, where in the past monkeypox outbreaks have occurred, will be examined. Based on this information, a field study will be performed, to investigate potential wildlife contacts of the infected chimpanzees and potential reservoir species will be sampled.