This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Pox on Your House

Smallpox has been eliminated as a cause of death in the world, but new research by Anne Rimoin at UCLA and her colleagues has raised the disturbing possibility that the end of smallpox vaccination programs in sub-Saharan Africa (because they were considered no longer necessary) may have exposed the younger generation to the risk of monkeypox, a virus similar to smallpox, although not quite as deadly. Monkeypox, by the way, is not actually associated with monkeys, but rather is carried by rodents such as squirrels and rats. As the authors note in their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Since the global eradication of smallpox in 1977, monkeypox has been con- sidered to be the most important orthopoxvirus infection in humans. Humans can acquire monkeypox infection through direct contact with infected animals or humans. Since its discovery in 1970, the majority of cases have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); however, reports of monkeypox have increased in neighboring Republic of the Congo and a cluster of cases were reported in Sudan for the first time in 2006. In 2003, the first report of human monkeypox outside of the African continent occurred in the midwestern United States and was associated with imported African rodents.

The data show that young males in the DRC are the most likely victims of the disease, probably because (a) males are more likely than females to be hunting the animals from whom they then contract the disease; and (b) the younger generation has not been vaccinated against smallpox, which also protects humans against monkeypox. This is a reminder that you can't be too careful out there!

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