WTF Is Up with the Weird Origins of Monkeypox? And Why Is It Virtually Clinically Identical to Smallpox?

Here’s a rundown of the origins of the monkeypox virus, which scientists first discovered in a human-controlled “colony” in Copenhagen in 1958.

Although the mainstream media doesn’t discuss the origins of the monkeypox virus all that frequently, it’s a fascinating—and disturbing—tale that began in 1958; not in an African jungle, but rather in an institutional laboratory colony in Copenhagen, Denmark. Where scientists had kept the monkeys that presented the virus more than 50 days after the animals arrived in the country from their homeland in Singapore.

To unpack the story of how the disease began, and how it supposedly spread to people, below is a handful of the key points to understand.

How Was Monkeypox First Confirmed as a Novel Disease?

“During the summer and fall of 1958 two outbreaks of a non-fatal pox-like disease in cynomolgus monkeys have been observed in the monkey colony in this institute,” Preben von Magnus et al. wrote in a 1959 paper outlining the disease’s discovery in the journal Acta pathologica et microbiologica Scandinavica. “Both outbreaks occurred rather late after the monkeys had been received, i.e. 51 and 62 days after arrival…” the authors added.

Preben Christian Alexander von Magnus, a Danish virologist who was known for his research on influenza and polio vaccinations, is credited with confirming the existence of the virus. Although as many studies and outlets report, it’s not even clear to virologists if the animal reservoir for monkeypox was originally monkeys.

A picture of Preben Christian Alexander von Magnus. Image: Wikimedia Commons

“[W]e do not know whether monkeys are the natural host of the [monkeypox] virus,” reads a New Scientist article from 1970. “[But we] suspect that monkeypox is a poxvirus of unknown natural host, occasionally infecting monkeys which, in turn, occasionally infect man,” the article adds. Indeed, even in its most current description of the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website that: “The natural reservoir of monkeypox remains unknown. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) may harbor the virus and infect people.”

How Did Monkeypox (Supposedly) First Spread to Humans?

“The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox,” the CDC reports on its website. Indeed, as a Bulletin from the World Health Organization noted in 1970 monkeypox was first discovered in humans in the Basankusu district of Zaire“2 years after the last case of smallpox had occurred in the area.” A 9-month-old boy, first suspected of having smallpox, was the first human (on record) to contract the virus.

Incredibly—or perhaps expectedly?—there was a smallpox “vaccination” campaign occurring in the area when the infant contracted the disease. In the WHO’s bulletin, I.D. Ladynj et al. wrote that “The medical units [in the area where the case was discovered] are mainly engaged in curative medicine but routine vaccination against smallpox is performed by nursing sisters during monthly visits to dispensaries.”

As for how the 9-month-old boy contracted the virus, the WHO wasn’t sure. Ladynj et al. wrote in their study that:

“According to [the 9-month-old’s] father, monkeys are eaten by the family from time to time and are considered a great delicacy. Neither parent, however, could say with certainty whether monkeys had been eaten by the family during the month or so before [the 9-month-old baby] developed the disease. Nor was it possible to determine whether [the 9-month old boy] had any direct contact with a killed monkey during the same period before his illness.”

The authors of the study go on to say that “As with the other [monkeypox] cases that have been reported subsequently…no specific contact either with a monkey known to be infected or with a human case could be identified although, as in the other cases, the patient lived in dense tropical rain forest where monkeys are frequently eaten.” They go on to note that “No further transmission of the infection was evident, either in the village or in the hospital.”

Clinically, Monkeypox and Smallpox are Almost Entirely the Same Disease

Another important aspect to consider regarding the origin of monkeypox is just how—exceptionally—similar it is to smallpox. For countless reasons.

In the ’59 von Magnus paper, for example, the authors note that “Clinical distinction between smallpox and monkeypox, both in monkeys and in man is not possible.”

Link to bulletin

The authors also note “monkeypox and vaccinia viruses share major common antigens thereby making it virtually impossible to distinguish them in conventional serologic tests.”

Link to bulletin

Likewise, a 1973 study in the journal Bacteriology Reviews noted that “The physical characteristics of [the cytopathic effects] produced by [monkeypox virus] in monkey kidney-cultured cells cannot be distinguished from those of variola… and vaccinia viruses… .”

Link to study in Bacteriology Reviews

Also recall as well that I. D. Ladnyj et al.‘s review claims the first-ever monkeypox case in a human was originally thought to be smallpox because of something that made medical professionals “suspect” the disease. (Presumably it was the child’s symptoms.) After sending specimens from the child to the WHO, the organization’s “Smallpox Reference Center” says it was able to isolate “a virus similar to, if not identical with, monkeypox virus… .”

Link to bulletin

Furthermore, a World Health Organization report from 1968prior to the supposed first case discovered in humans—described several interesting observations about monkeypox:

“Reports of naturally occurring pox infections in non-human primates are few indeed and only Gispin…has provided virological confirmation. Gispen’s work, preceding the recognition of monkeypox virus as an entity, confirmed only that infection had been caused by a virus in the variola-vaccinia-monkeypox group.”

“The absence of human infections in the various outbreaks of monkeypox suggests that man may be comparatively insusceptible to this virus.”

“That no outbreaks of pox disease in monkeys in nature have been reported since 1936 suggests that this phenomenon must be rare indeed.”

Link to bulletin

All of this to say, it seems the evidence for naturally occurring monkeypox outbreaks—or symptomatic infections—in people are rare. Indeed, they are even rare in monkeys. Furthermore, we learn here that “Clinical distinction between smallpox and monkeypox, both in monkeys and in man is not possible.” We also learn the WHO was only able to isolate a “a virus similar to, if not identical with, monkeypox virus… .” On top of that, “monkeypox and vaccinia viruses share major common antigens thereby making it virtually impossible to distinguish them in conventional serologic tests.” (Also note that a 1972 paper on monkeypox in JAMA pointed out that “Morphologically, [the virus] is almost indistinguishable from the variola virus.”

The Times of India also wrote in June of 2022 that “The discovery of human monkeypox just three years after the smallpox eradication program in 1967 worried scientists.” The Times added that “The two diseases were so similar that if monkeypox spread out of Africa it could defeat the smallpox program.”

To wit: Monkeypox: only rarely “naturally” occurs in monkeys and humans as symptomatic infections; is virtually indistinguishable from smallpox clinically; was potentially “a virus similar to” a monkeypox virus in its first supposed infection of a human; is impossible to distinguish from vaccinia viruses in serologic tests; and has been preceded by smallpox vaccination campaigns, including in the first supposed instance of the infection.

Monkeypox and Children

Although this aspect of the disease seems to be rarely discussed, monkeypox—unequivocally—affects young people (particularly young children) far more than it does older people. The WHO notes on its monkeypox facts page that “Severe cases occur more commonly among children…” and that “The case fatality ratio [of the disease]… has been higher among young people.” Likewise, the WHO bulletin from 1980 notes that in the monkeypox cases in humans between 1970 and 1980, 83% of cases were in children below the age of 10. Eight of the 11 patients who died of the disease during the period were between the ages of seven months old and seven years old.

During an outbreak in 2013 in the Bokungu Health Zone of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the median age for those with a monkeypox infection was 10 years old. Nearly one in five of those affected were under the age of five years old.

This relationship between which people monkeypox affects most negatively, when combined with the observations from the similarities between monkeypox and smallpox, as well as the fact that monkeypox outbreaks have been preceded by smallpox vaccination campaigns, helps to fill out the picture of what people are dealing with here. It’s almost as if smallpox is so much like monkeypox, you don’t even need the latter disease classification whatsoever.

Link to WHO bulletin
Link to study in Bacteriology Reviews
Link to WHO bulletin
Link to study in Emerging Infectious Diseases
Link to WHO monkeypox page

The Smallpox Vaccine Supposedly Works for Monkeypox, Was Tested by the U.S. Military at Fort Detrick in Maryland

Furthering the parallels between monkeypox and smallpox is the fact that authorities—including the WHO, the CDC, the FDA, et al.—believe the “vaccine” for the latter disease can be deployed to protect against the former one.

In fact, Paul Chaplin, President and CEO of vaccine producer Bavarian Nordic announced in a May 18, 2022 press release that “the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has exercised the first options under the contract to supply a freeze-dried version of JYNNEOS® smallpox vaccine, thus allowing for the first doses of this version to be manufactured and invoiced in 2023 and 2024.” Jynneos, according to the FDA, can also be used as a vaccine for monkeypox.

Link to FDA approval

Indeed, the FDA put out a press release on September 24, 2019 announcing “the approval of Jynneos Smallpox and Monkeypox Vaccine, Live, Non-Replicating, for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox disease in adults 18 years of age and older determined to be at high risk for smallpox or monkeypox infection.” The FDA added: “This is the only currently FDA-approved vaccine for the prevention of monkeypox disease.”

Interestingly, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) noted in a 2019 press release that “Army scientists played a key role” in testing Jynneos. USAMRIID notes the “vaccine” is “made from vaccinia virus, which is closely related to smallpox and monkeypox but is less harmful and can be used to protect against both diseases.” The infectious disease institute goes on to note that Jynneos “contains a modified form of the vaccinia virus called Modified Vaccinia Ankara, which does not cause disease in humans and is non-replicating, meaning it cannot reproduce in human cells.”

Incidentally (or perhaps not) Fort Detrick in Maryland—where the military tested Jynneos on personnel—had its laboratory that handles high-level disease-causing material, such as Ebola, shut down indefinitely in 2019 “due to multiple causes, including failure to follow local procedures and a lack of periodic recertification training for workers in the biocontainment laboratories… .”

Another oddity in the monkeypox vaccine narrative is the fact that, on May 23, 2022, a man in Copenhagen, Denmark tested positive for the disease after returning from a trip to Spain. While that in itself is not odd, what is odd—or at least noteworthy—is that Bavarian Nordic, the company that makes the Jynneos monkeypox “vaccine,” is also located in Copenhagen. And, of course, Preben von Magnus supposedly originally confirmed the disease’s existence in the same spot as well.


There are several key points to note with this monkeypox-origins explainer; all of which point toward monkeypox being identical to—or virtually identical to—smallpox. Clinical symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox are identical, for example. Both diseases also negatively affect younger people (and children in particular) far more than they do older people. Indeed, they’re so similar they can supposedly be treated by the same “vaccine.”

Monkeypox also first cropped in humans after the worldwide smallpox vaccination campaign had been initiated—not before. We also know the monkeypox vaccine (which is apparently interchangeable with the polio vaccine) is able to cause a symptomatic monkeypox infection itself.

Ultimately, this means monkeypox is wildly similar to smallpox, and didn’t appear in humans until after a worldwide smallpox vaccination campaign began. Monkeypox also overwhelmingly affects children, just like smallpox, which is important to remember for several reasons. Perhaps the most critical being that, according to an HHS issue brief on smallpox vaccinations published in 2003, “Primary vaccination in children under the age of 10 appears to be most risky according to the historical record.” Indeed, the authors of the brief note that “Although children were previously routinely immunized when smallpox was a naturally occurring disease, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) currently advises against use of the smallpox vaccine in children less than 18 years of age except in the event of an emergency.”

Feature image: Preben von Magnus et al. / Acta pathologica et microbiologica Scandinavica

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