Monkeypox: Expert outlines ‘different’ behaviour in outbreak

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In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the risk of new infectious diseases is arguably far more prominent in the general consciousness. Recent months, for example, have seen much attention focused on flare-ups of scarlet fever, hepatitis of mysterious origin and avian influenza. And — of course — there is the present international outbreak of monkeypox which, as of Friday, has seen 106 cases recorded across the UK alone.

To better control similar outbreaks in the future, rapid detection is “essential” — and for that one needs medical surveillance, emerging and zoonotic disease expert Professor Malcolm Bennett of the University of Nottingham told

He said: “In the UK and many other countries we have this list of notifiable diseases.

“These are diseases you have to tell the authorities about if you diagnose, whether in animals or humans.”

In the UK, this list includes such diseases as anthrax, leprosy, rabies, scarlet fever and whooping cough, for just a few examples.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), in contrast, has a different system in place.

Prof Bennett explains: “The WHO method of doing that is not to have a list of notifiable diseases, but say: ‘If you see anything new, you must let us know so that we can help you investigate and find out what it is.’ ”

In practice, however, the WHO is not always notified.

Prof Bennet continued: “We need to make that real, rather than just something on a webpage.”

To do this, Prof. Bennet said, “what we in the UK need to do is to talk to other countries around the world and say ‘how can we make sure that we really do this?”

It will be important, he added, to establish exactly how we as an international community plan to keep an eye out for new outbreaks.

Prof Bennet added: “There are all kinds of ways of doing that surveillance.

“It can be through health systems, it can be through ‘chatter’ on the internet.”

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We might even employ methods of medical surveillance that tap into the kind of approaches that advertisers and vendors use to monitor consumer trends, Prof Bennet noted.

He added: “It may be possible to pick up on some new infectious syndrome that’s going on through looking at sales of painkillers, for example.

“So, if suddenly you’re selling more aspirin than you used to, that might indicate that there’s a lot of people with fevers — and then you think, ‘that’s interesting, we don’t normally have many people with fevers at this time of year.’

“There are lots of ways [of surveilling for possible outbreaks] and people are thinking about all these.

“But the key to it all is how can you pick up something as new as quickly as possible, so you can then find out what it is and decide how you’re going to control it.”

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