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From COVID to mpox to polio: Our 9 most-read 'viral' stories in 2022

(Left) A computer-generated image of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.(Right) SARS-CoV-2 is shown in this colorized transmission electron micrograph.
Uma Shankar Sharma/Getty Images and Science Source
(Left) A computer-generated image of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.(Right) SARS-CoV-2 is shown in this colorized transmission electron micrograph.

Even though the public's interest in the pandemic began to wane in its third year, COVID still grabbed the top spots for our most-read stories. But this year it had to share the spotlight with other viruses — notably mpox, HIV and polio.

With COVID, we spent the early part of the year scrutinizing the omicron variant. How bad is it? How immune are we? Why does it have a sibling? And we wondered about vaccines, not just here, but around the world. And why is there this strange subset of people who never seem to get COVID?

But just as we were all wrapping our minds around COVID variants, and feeling pretty good about the ideas that viruses might weaken over time and could even be behind us, we were surprised by a more contagious and severe HIV variant as well as global outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio, including cases in New York.

And scientists reminded us not to underestimate viruses.

Finally, a serious global outbreak of mpox came on so suddenly that President Biden declared a public health emergency in the U.S.

Keeping up with viruses in 2022 was like a game of Whac-A-Mole — as soon as you felt you had one figured out another would pop up, only to be followed by a variant of the first one.

Ranked here in order of popularity are the infectious-disease stories you most wanted to read from us in 2022. We hope we answered your most pressing questions!

A Texas team comes up with a COVID vaccine that could be a global game changer

Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi used an oldie-but-goodie technology to devise a vaccine that's easy to make — and relatively cheap. Then they made their recipe available to all countries. Published January 5, 2022.

Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi of Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine have developed a COVID-19 vaccine that could prove beneficial to countries with fewer resources.
/ Max Trautner/Texas Children's Hospital
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Max Trautner/Texas Children's Hospital
Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi of Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine have developed a COVID-19 vaccine that could prove beneficial to countries with fewer resources.

A second version of omicron is spreading. Here's why scientists are on alert

It's a sibling of the first omicron variant that swept the world. Is it more contagious? Does it cause severe disease? Will it keep current omicron surges going? Researchers are looking for answers. Published January 27, 2022.

A computer-generated image of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
/ Uma Shankar Sharma/Getty Images
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Uma Shankar Sharma/Getty Images
A computer-generated image of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Rare monkeypox outbreak in U.K., Europe and U.S.: What is it and should we worry?

The cases point to possible sexual transmission of this cousin of smallpox — a previously unknown method of spread for monkeypox. Published May 18, 2022.

Symptoms of the monkeypox virus are shown on a patient's hand, from a 2003 case in the United States. In most instances, the disease causes fever and painful, pus-filled blisters. New cases in the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal are spreading possibly through sexual contact, which had not previously been linked to monkeypox transmission.
CDC / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Symptoms of the monkeypox virus are shown on a patient's hand, from a 2003 case in the United States. In most instances, the disease causes fever and painful, pus-filled blisters. New cases in the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal are spreading possibly through sexual contact, which had not previously been linked to monkeypox transmission.

What we know about the symptoms — and the severity — of the omicron variant

Researchers are looking at data from U.S. cases to determine if the variant causes milder disease. Even if the answer is yes, they say, rates of hospitalization could be high during the surge. Published January 6, 2022.

A commuter masks up for a bus ride in Liverpool, England. The omicron variant of the coronavirus has surged in the U.K. and is now dominant in the U.S. as well. There's now data indicating just how severe its symptoms might be.
/ Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images
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Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images
A commuter masks up for a bus ride in Liverpool, England. The omicron variant of the coronavirus has surged in the U.K. and is now dominant in the U.S. as well. There's now data indicating just how severe its symptoms might be.

So you haven't caught COVID yet. Does that mean you're a superdodger?

A new study suggests that, yes, there are superdodgers. But explaining why they've been able to avoid the virus is a bit complicated. Published September 7, 2022.

The future of the pandemic is looking clearer as we learn more about infection

Scientists are beginning to come up with answers to the question of how long antibodies from an infection can protect you — and what they'll protect you from. Published February 7, 2022.

SARS-CoV-2 is shown in this colorized transmission electron micrograph. This specimen was isolated from a patient in the U.S. Particles of the virus are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab.
/ Science Source
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Science Source
SARS-CoV-2 is shown in this colorized transmission electron micrograph. This specimen was isolated from a patient in the U.S. Particles of the virus are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab.

Monkeypox: The myths, misconceptions — and facts — about how you catch it

Is it a sexually transmitted disease? Can you get it on a crowded bus? Trying on clothes? We talk to specialists about how this virus is transmitted and what kinds of precautions are warranted. Published August 5, 2022.

A person arrives for a monkeypox vaccination at a New York health care center.
/ Eduardo Munoz/REUTERS
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Eduardo Munoz/REUTERS
A person arrives for a monkeypox vaccination at a New York health care center.

Discovery of HIV variant shows virus can evolve to be more severe — and contagious

Findings from a new study help answer questions about why some people get more severe and transmissible HIV than others — and serve as a reminder that viruses don't always weaken over time. Published February 4, 2022.

A colorized electron microscope image from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a single human immunodeficiency virus budding from a human immune cell.
/ AP
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AP
A colorized electron microscope image from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a single human immunodeficiency virus budding from a human immune cell.

How the U.S. case might tie into the global upswing in polio

Countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia are counting more cases of vaccine-derived polio. Now there's a likely U.S. case. Researchers are looking for ways to stop it. Published April 26, 2022.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A health worker administers the oral polio vaccine to a young girl as other children wait for their turn at a school in Karachi, Pakistan on February 28, 2022. In response to an uptick in cases of vaccine-derived polio — a form of the disease that stems from the oral vaccine — many countries are rolling out a new oral polio vaccine.
Rizwan Tabassum / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A health worker administers the oral polio vaccine to a young girl as other children wait for their turn at a school in Karachi, Pakistan on February 28, 2022. In response to an uptick in cases of vaccine-derived polio — a form of the disease that stems from the oral vaccine — many countries are rolling out a new oral polio vaccine.

Laurel Dalrymple