Human monkeypox, 1970-79

Bull World Health Organ. 1980;58(2):165-82.


Increasing attention has been given to human monkeypox since the achievement of global smallpox eradication. Monkeypox, which was first described in Central Africa in 1970, resembles smallpox clinically but differs from it epidemiologically. Forty-seven cases of human monkeypox have occurred since 1970 in 5 Central and West African countries; 38 of these cases have been reported from Zaire. The evolution of the illness and the sequelae of monkeypox and smallpox are the same; monkeypox has a case-fatality rate of about 17%. Children below 10 years of age comprise 83% of the cases. All cases have occurred in tropical rainforest areas and clustering of cases has been observed in certain zones within countries and within families. Person-to-person spread may have occurred in 4 cases; the secondary attack rate among susceptible, very close family members was 7.5% (3 cases/40 contacts) and among all susceptible contacts was 3.3% (4 cases/123 contacts)-much lower than the 25-40% secondary attack rate that occurs with smallpox. Although the low transmission rate and the low frequency of disease indicate that monkeypox is not a public health problem, more data are needed.Whilst many animals near human monkeypox cases have been demonstrated to have orthopoxvirus antibodies, the natural reservoir(s) and the vector(s) of monkeypox virus are unknown. Studies are in progress to identify the natural cycle of monkeypox virus and to define better the clinical and epidemiological features of this disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa, Central
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Monkeypox virus / isolation & purification*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Poxviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Poxviridae Infections / epidemiology
  • Poxviridae Infections / microbiology
  • Poxviridae Infections / transmission*