On May 18, a US resident of Massachusetts tested positive for monkeypox after traveling to Canada, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recent cases have also been reported in some European countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal, which have recorded up to 30 cases each, and Australia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While the CDC has only confirmed one case in Massachusetts, there are suspected cases in New York and Florida.
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus; the first human case was recorded in 1970, according to the CDC. The origin of the monkeypox virus is unknown, although African rodents and nonhuman primates like monkeys can carry it, according to the CDC. Symptoms of monkeypox can include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and a rash that often starts on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body. Eventually, the lesions turn into scabs, which may fall off and leave pitted scars.
Monkeypox typically lasts between 2 and 4 weeks, according to the CDC, which notes that it has been shown to kill 1 in 10 people who contract the disease in Africa, where the virus is most prevalent. No deaths from the current outbreaks have been reported so far, according to the WHO. Although a monkeypox vaccine is not currently available in the United States, the smallpox vaccine may provide some protection against monkeypox. These are generally only used for people « at risk of occupational exposure » to monkeypox (for example, researchers who study poxviruses in the laboratory), according to the CDC.
Recent outbreaks in Europe and confirmed and suspected cases in the United States have raised questions about how monkeypox spreads and what prevention measures can be put in place to stop transmission. Below is what you need to know about monkeypox transmission and what authorities are doing to prevent more cases in the United States.
How is monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox occurs after a person comes into contact with the monkeypox virus, which can happen in three different ways, depending on the CDC: human-to-human contact, animal-to-human contact or contact with material contaminated by the virus (such as bedding). The virus can enter the body through broken skin (like a paper cut), the respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth). According to the WHO, any direct contact, including sexual contact, with an infected person puts you at risk of contracting monkeypox.
In addition, animal-to-human transmission can occur if the infected animal bites or scratches the human. The bodily fluids of infected humans or animals, as well as contact with their monkeypox lesions, can also promote the spread of the virus. In 2003, the United States recorded 47 confirmed or probable cases of monkeypox, all of which were attributed to contact with prairie dogs that had recently been housed near small mammals, some of which were infected with the virus, imported from Ghana to Texas, according to the CDC. This was the first outbreak of monkeypox reported outside of the African continent.