Nuclear science to help tackle monkeypox, Lassa fever

09 June 2022

Participants in a programme launched by the IAEA during the COVID-19 pandemic have agreed to step up joint efforts to fight the monkeypox and Lassa fever viruses using nuclear science.

Grossi delivers opening remarks to the workshop on 7 June (Image: IAEA) A workshop to explore how nuclear techniques can help prevent outbreaks of viruses, held under the IAEA's Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative - launched in 2020 to strengthen global preparedness for future pandemics - saw participants from national laboratories, the IAEA, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and international experts agree to strengthen cooperation and define research topics to understand the epidemiological role of animal carriers and reservoirs.

"It is important that we are reacting quickly, as things happen," IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said. "I am happy that concrete work is being carried out on something before it becomes a very difficult problem."

Both monkeypox and Lassa fever have been reported in Africa since the early 1970s. However, there is currently not sufficient data to fully understand recent transmissions, including the ongoing outbreaks of monkeypox in countries on four continents, the IAEA said. As of 4 June, more than 780 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in 27 countries where the virus is non-endemic, the IAEA said. According to the WHO, there may have been undetected transmission for some time leading to the current situation.

Transmission of Lassa fever from West Africa was earlier this year confirmed in four cases in Europe. "Even though this is not the first time the disease has been exported from West Africa, the causes of transmission remain unknown," the IAEA said.

The agency intends to work with ZODIAC national laboratories around the world to use nuclear technology to fine-tune the diagnostic algorithms for the two diseases. This will help improve understanding of how these viruses circulate in animals, how they survive in the environment and how they spread from species to species.

ZODIAC was launched in 2020 to improve national laboratory capacities to detect and control zoonotic diseases as early as possible, building on the experience of the VETLAB network of veterinary laboratories in Africa and Asia originally set up by the FAO and the IAEA to combat the cattle disease rinderpest. ZODIAC is centred on a network of national laboratories designated by 125 of the agency's member states.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News