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AUN Professor Okeke, Class Valedictorian Alakunle Collaborate in Monkeypox Research

AUN Professor Okeke, Class Valedictorian Alakunle Collaborate in Monkeypox Research

On July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), a declaration that puts the world on high alert to the presence and potential of the disease in humans. Scientists identify the monkeypox virus as MPV, MPXV, or hMPXV, with two strains - clade one (I) and clade two (II). While monkeypox has not reasonably assumed the frightening pandemic proportions of COVID-19, AUN researchers Professor Malachy Okeke and Emmanuel Alakunle are offering a clearer insight into the origins and nature of the virus.

Their paper: 'Monkeypox virus: a neglected zoonotic pathogen spreads globally', is published in the Nature Reviews Microbiology. The paper is available from September 2022, and has this summary:

"The current outbreak of MPX in non-endemic regions should be a wake-up call and highlights how little-to-no attention has been paid to the spread of the virus within endemic areas. It should also serve as a reminder that in an inter-connected and globalized world, no region or country is safe from zoonotic pathogens like MPXV unless the virus is contained in endemic regions. The global health response strategies must prioritize MPX outbreaks in endemic regions of sub-Saharan Africa".

Prolific researcher Dr. Okeke is an Assistant Professor of Biology in the AUN Natural and Environmental Sciences program, while Emmanuel Alakunle is the AUN Class of 2022 Valedictorian and Professor Okeke's former student. In their paper, they argue that the spread of monkeypox to non-endemic countries is likely caused by an upsurge in monkeypox cases in sub-Saharan Africa that the global public health authorities ignored.

In their hypothesis, the researchers posited that "it is unlikely a zoonotic spillover from animals to humans, and instead due to single or multiple importations of the virus from endemic regions, and subsequent cryptic inter-human transmissions that were undetected."

Alakunle and Okeke also suggested the following steps that need to be taken globally to curtail MPXV spread.

They include administering smallpox vaccination (non-replicating vaccines) to provide cross-protection against MPX to individuals at high risk of exposure; post-exposure vaccination to already infected individuals and their contacts; and active MPX surveillance in human populations, especially in endemic regions; periodic epidemiological surveillance of MPX in rodents and small mammals;

Other preventive measures include public health regulatory oversight over trade and ownership of pet rodents, small mammals, and other wildlife animals; thorough human contact tracing; and the specific MPXV reservoir needs to be identified.

"Finally, capacity and competencies must be built, especially in endemic regions, to predict disease outbreaks and prevent them rather than just responding to and containing the outbreak," the researcher concluded. Please use this link to access the paper:

Alakunle, E.F., Okeke, M.I. Monkeypox virus: a neglected zoonotic pathogen spreads globally. Nat Rev Microbiol 20, 507–508 (2022).

You can also view Professor Okeke's academic and research profile through this link Dr. Malachy Ifeanyi Okeke - American University of Nigeria (


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