Monkeypox has not previously triggered widespread outbreaks beyond Africa, where it is endemic. Health authorities are expressing concern about the unusual uptick but also stress that the virus is far less transmissible than the coronavirus.
In July 2021, Georgia monitored more than 40 people for suspected cases of monkeypox, but ultimately none tested positive. More than 200 people in the US were monitored after coming into contact with an individual who contracted monkeypox before taking a July flight from Nigeria to Atlanta and then to Dallas.
Many of the current cases are travel-associated and occurred in men, according to Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology. None of these people with confirmed or suspected monkeypox reported having recently been in central or west African countries where monkeypox usually occurs, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, according to the CDC.
The CDC released a level-2 alert last week , advising people to “practice enhanced precautions” — and warning that the disease can be fatal in up to 11% of people who become infected.
The CDC says the risk to the general public is low but people should avoid close contact with anyone suspected of having the virus and seek medical care immediately if they develop new, unexplained skin rash or lesions on any part of the body, with or without fever and chills.
A leading adviser to the World Health Organization has described the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox in developed countries as “a random event” that appears to have been traced back to sexual activity at two recent raves in Europe.
Health officials say most of the known cases in Europe have been among men who have sex with men, but anyone can be infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothing or bedsheets. Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, and anyone can become infected regardless of sexual orientation, according to health officials.
Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, back pain, muscle aches and low energy. The virus can go on to cause rash and lesions on the face or genitals. The lesions or papules, become blisters filled with white fluid.
The CDC says there is “no proven, safe treatment” for monkeypox but smallpox vaccines and antiviral treatments can be used to help control outbreaks. President Biden has assured Americans that the United States has enough vaccine stocks to address the threat.
The US emergency stockpile holds two vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration that could be used to contain monkeypox, CDC officials have said. The stockpile contains more than 100 million doses of the original smallpox vaccine. But that vaccine can have serious side effects and shouldn’t be given to certain patients, including those who are immunocompromised.
A newer vaccine, called Jynneos, was approved in 2019 for prevention of both smallpox and monkeypox. The US has more than 1,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine in stock and is releasing some, according to McQuiston.
The vaccines that protect against smallpox haven’t been part of standard childhood immunizations since the 1970s. Smallpox was declared eradicated worldwide in 1980. As a result, most people under the age of 50 have no immunity to this kind of virus.
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’ In 2003, the United States recorded dozens of monkeypox cases that were traced to infected pet prairie dogs. The pets were infected after being housed near imported small mammals from Ghana. That was the first time that human monkeypox was reported outside of Africa.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report