Monkeypox spreading: What you need to know

Health

(NewsNation) — The first case of Monkeypox has been identified in the U.S.

Health officials say a man in Massachusetts caught the rare virus after traveling to Canada.

Since the disease is usually limited to Central and Western Africa, medical professionals are questioning how monkeypox is spreading.

And the U.S. has ordered millions of dollars worth of a vaccine protecting against monkeypox.

WHAT IS MONKEYPOX?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines monkeypox as a “rare but potentially serious viral illness that typically begins with flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes and progresses to a widespread rash on the face and body.” Monkeypox is similar to smallpox with cases usually from West or Central Africa.

WHERE HAS IT BEEN IDENTIFIED?

Monkeypox was discovered in 1958, according to the CDC, when two outbreaks of a “pox-like disease” occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research. The first human case was reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970.

In 2017, monkeypox saw a reemergence in Nigeria after researchers say more than 40 years passed with no reported cases. Since then, there have been over 450 reported cases in Nigeria.

In the U.S. the CDC says monkeypox cases are “very rare.” According to the agency, the condition does not occur naturally in America, but some cases have been associated with international travel or importing animals from areas where the disease is more common.

In 2003, the U.S. had 47 confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox in six states: Illinois, Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio. During that outbreak, the CDC says everyone who became infected had contact with pet prairie dogs that were previously housed near imported small mammals from Ghana. The 2003 outbreak marked the first time human monkeypox was reported outside of Africa, the CDC says.

In 2021, two monkeypox cases were reported in the U.S. In both instances, the patient had recently traveled to Nigeria. After contact tracing and waiting for potential symptoms to occur in people with possible contact, no other cases were identified.

In recent days, health officials in both the U.S. and Europe have identified a number of monkeypox cases, mostly in young men.

Monkeypox infections have been reported in America, Italy, Britain, Portugal, Sweden and Spain. As of the time of this report, the number of confirmed cases is as follows:

United States: 1

United Kingdom: 9

Spain: 7

Portugal: 14

Italy: 1

Sweden: 1

Wednesday, health authorities reported a monkeypox case in a Massachusetts man who they say had recently traveled to Canada. Suspected infections are currently being investigated in the Montreal area.

According to reports, the cases in Portugal were reported at a sexual health clinic where men sought help for lesions on their genitals. Britain’s main health agency insisted that not all of its cases are connected.

Researchers say what’s different about these cases is it appears to be the first time monkeypox is spreading among people who did not travel to Africa.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Symptoms of monkeypox in humans are described as being similar but milder than symptoms of smallpox. The main difference between the symptoms is that monkeypox can cause lymph nodes to swell while smallpox does not.

The CDC says the virus usually starts with fever, headache, muscle aches and exhaustion and has an incubation period of usually seven-14 days but can range from five-21 days.

According to the CDC, within one to three days after having a fever, a person with monkeypox develops a rash, often starting on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body. Lesions then progress through different stages before eventually falling off.

The agency says monkeypox usually lasts for two to four weeks. The illness has been shown to cause death in as many as one in 10 people who contracted the disease.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?

The virus typically originates in animals such as monkeys and rodents, but can be found in humans. The main disease carrier is still unknown, but African rodents are suspected to play a role in spreading monkeypox.

The CDC says transmission can occur when a person comes in contact with the virus from an animal, human, or certain materials contaminated with the virus.

The virus enters the body through broken skin, respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose or mouth.

Animal-to-human transmission could happen by bite, scratch, bush meat preparation, direct contact with bodily fluids or lesion material, or through contaminated bedding. Human-to-human transmission may occur through large respiratory droplets, direct contact with body fluids or lesion materials, indirect contact with lesion material or through contaminated clothing or linens.

IS IT CURABLE?

Currently, the CDC says there is no proven or safe treatment specifically for a monkeypox infection. The agency says antivirals and vaccinia immune globulin can be used.

According to the CDC, a JYNNEOS vaccine also known as Imvamune or Imvanex has been licensed in the U.S. to prevent both monkeypox and smallpox. The vaccine is reportedly 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox.

SHOULD I BE CONCERNED?

Officials are calling recent cases of monkeypox “rare and unusual.”

On NewsNation’s Rush Hour, Dr. Anthony Harris of HFit Health, explained: “Why we should be concerned is because it is unusual to see an outbreak of monkeypox. Monkeypox is similar to smallpox, but not as easily transmitted as smallpox. And so the fact that we’re seeing transmission happen in this population […] is concerning because of the means of transmission being different from what we’ve seen in the past since the 1950s, which traditionally was from rodents to humans. This potentially may now represent communication or transmission from human to human, which is very unusual.”

Now, the CDC is urging health care providers to be alert for patients who have rash illnesses consistent with symptoms of monkeypox, regardless of travel history.

“Many of these global reports of monkeypox cases are occurring within sexual networks.  However, health care providers should be alert to any rash that has features typical of monkeypox. We’re asking the public to contact their health care provider if they have a new rash and are concerned about monkeypox,” said Inger Damon, MD, PhD, a poxvirus expert with more than 20 years’ experience and Director of CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, where the agency’s poxvirus research is based.

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