Accessibility links

Breaking News

Monkeypox Test Market Much Lower Than COVID

TFILE: Test tubes labelled "Monkeypox virus positive" are seen in this illustration taken May 23, 2022.

Diagnostic companies are racing to develop tests for monkeypox, hoping to tap into a new market as governments ramp up efforts to trace the world's first major outbreak of the viral infection outside of Africa.

The scramble started last month, much like early 2020 when companies rushed to make kits to help diagnose COVID-19, creating a multibillion-dollar boon for test makers.

More than 550 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported by about 30 countries since early May. The majority were in Europe and not linked to travel to Africa, where the virus is endemic. So far, no deaths have been reported.

Still, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it expects infections to rise as surveillance expands and its Europe head warned the spread could accelerate as people gather for parties and festivals over the summer.

But pharmaceutical industry observers say demand for monkeypox tests will be a faction of what it was for COVID, given monkeypox is not as transmissible nor as dangerous as COVID.

The virus typically spreads through close contact and can cause flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions that usually resolve on their own within weeks. The virus is part of the orthopoxvirus family that also includes smallpox and cowpox.

It is unclear whether infected but symptomatic individuals can spread the virus, says the WHO, so it's not known if precautionary testing of suspected cases is needed.

And unlike the sudden emergence of COVID, there are vaccines, treatments and tests that can already help curb the spread of monkeypox.

Daniel Bausch, Senior Director at FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics, said "This isn't going to be the next COVID , so I don't think the needs are massive. I don't anticipate [test] supply to be an issue."

Broadly there are two types of test: PCR and antigen tests are designed to detect whether a person is currently or very recently infected, while antibody tests show whether a person has previously been infected.

However, since suspected cases are expected to isolate for up to 21 days, rapid antigen tests could be useful, given there are currently no pox virus diseases that have broadly spread across populations, said Carlos Maluquer de Motes at Surrey University.