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Trop Geogr Med. 1988 Apr;40(2):73-83.

Human monkeypox: disease pattern, incidence and attack rates in a rural area of northern Zaire.

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  • 1Smallpox Eradication Unit, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.


Human monkeypox is a zoonosis that occurs sporadically in the tropical rainforest of western and central Africa. This article presents the results of epidemiological features of 91 monkeypox patients reported in Bumba zone in northern Zaire during the period 1981 to 1985. Their age ranged from 7 months to 29 years (93% below 15 years of age). 11% of patients had visible smallpox vaccination scars. Deaths occurred sporadically; the overall case-fatality rate was 9%. 91 patients arose in 61 separate outbreaks; 42 of them consisted of only a single case. The source of infection was suspected to be animal for 70 cases, and human for the remaining 21 cases. The illness occurred in all months of the year. There was a considerable clustering of cases in the northern part of the zone. The average annual incidence rate in the observed zone was 0.63 cases per 10,000 population with marked differences in age, time and place. The average annual primary attack rate among unvaccinated individuals (1.7/10,000) sharply contrasted with those vaccinated (0.04/10,000). The secondary attack rate for contacts without vaccination scar (4.3%) differed significantly from those who had been vaccinated in past (0.7%). Many unvaccinated contacts living under conditions of maximal exposure to index cases escaped not only the disease but also infection. The low incidence rate of human monkeypox indicates its limited public health importance even in a well-known enzootic area.

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