A Chinese research institute said on Thursday that it has successfully isolated monkeypox virus strains from clinical samples and has begun researching vaccines and drugs for fighting the infectious disease.
The Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, a research unit of State-owned Sinopharm's China National Biotech Group, which developed one of the first domestic COVID-19 vaccines, made the announcement.
Most monkeypox patients can recover without special treatment, and there is no domestically developed vaccine approved to prevent the infection so far, though smallpox vaccines are believed to provide some protection against the virus, according to the National Health Commission.
Globally, the primary vaccine approved for use in the United States and a number of other countries is Jynneos, made by a Danish pharmaceutical company.
Since May, a number of countries, including the US and many in Europe, where monkeypox infections used to be rare, have reported an increasing number of cases. On July 23, the World Health Organization declared the rapidly spreading outbreak a global health emergency, its highest level of alert.
This year, a total of 75,141 confirmed monkeypox cases in over 100 countries had been reported to the WHO as of Wednesday.
The Chinese mainland has not reported any locally transmitted monkeypox infection. However, an incoming traveler arriving in Chongqing from Germany in September was confirmed to have contracted the disease on Sept 16.
All inbound passengers arriving on the mainland will be screened for COVID-19 as well as monkeypox during the required 10-day quarantine period.
Qi Li, an official at the Chongqing Municipal Disease Control and Prevention Center, said that because the incubation period for monkeypox ranges from five to 21 days, it is possible for some infections to be missed beyond the required quarantine period. "It is therefore important to ask the public to report their situation proactively," Qi said during an online forum on Sept 29.
She also suggested enhancing the monitoring of incoming travelers, healthcare workers and MSM (men who have sex with men) groups, who are believed to be at higher risk of getting infected, as well as ramping up inventories of monkeypox testing kits and training of customs workers.
Tan Wenjie, a researcher at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at the forum that the key to China's monkeypox control work is preventing imported cases, especially stepping up health quarantine of inbound travelers and imported animals.
Lu Hongzhou, president of Shen-zhen Third People's Hospital in Guangdong province, said that the possibility of seeing a major monkeypox outbreak on the mainland is very slim, given the strict COVID-19 control measures already in place.
"The priority task now is to implement diagnostics work at customs firmly, and develop rapid testing kits," Lu said. There currently is no need to roll out mass monkeypox vaccination campaigns, but it is nonetheless important to keep pushing vaccine research work, Lu added.