The CDC cautioned Monday that it expects to see more rare monkeypox cases emerge in the United States in the coming weeks despite only confirming one so far, noting it is evaluating another four possible cases already linked to the same virus family. One of the latter is being treated in isolation in New York City.
The agency is responsible for confirming potential cases as state and city health departments sent samples. The sample from the New York City patient is one of the four the CDC is evaluating that tested positive for orthopoxvirus, which is the family of viruses to which monkeypox belongs.
Contract tracing, an all-too-familiar term for New Yorkers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is well underway.
The first U.S. confirmed case in 2022 of the contagious monkeypox disease, which is caused by a viral infection similar to those that cause smallpox and cowpox, was reported last week in Massachusetts. According to the CDC, the sample is the West African strain, which is the milder of the two monkeypox strains. Most people who become infected recover within two to four weeks with little or no intervention.
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Monkeypox is rare in the U.S. because it doesn't occur naturally here, according to the CDC. Any cases confirmed in America typically are associated with international travel or animal imports from areas where the disease is more common.
Most potential cases the CDC is investigating do not involve recent travel to countries that typically see a lot of monkeypox, so it says it is working diligently to track the connections. The risk to the general public appears to be low at this time.
Monkeypox is rarely identified outside of Africa, but as of Friday, there were 80 confirmed cases worldwide, including at least two in the United States, and another 50 suspected ones. The World Health Organization says the outbreaks in North America and Europe may stem from sex among men -- with a total of about 200 confirmed and suspected cases now reported globally.
On Sunday, one presumptive case of monkeypox also was being investigated in Broward County in South Florida, which state health officials said appeared to be related to international travel.
Asked about the investigation Sunday, President Joe Biden said monkeypox was something about which Americans should be "concerned."
“They haven’t told me the level of exposure yet but it is something that everybody should be concerned about,” the Democrat said, issuing his first public comments on the disease amid the current investigation.
Biden added that work was underway to determine which vaccine might be effective. He was also quick to assure the public Monday that the threat from monkeypox doesn't rise to the same threat level as COVID.
What Is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, when outbreaks occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research -- resulting in its name. (What you need to know about monkeypox.)
The first case in a human was reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which still has the majority of infections. Other African countries where it has been found: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone.
Human symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox, the CDC says. It presents itself as a flu-like illness accompanied by lymph-node swelling and rash on the face and body.
Monkeypox starts off with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion. Monkeypox also causes lymph nodes to swell, something that smallpox does not. The incubation period is usually 7−14 days but can range from 5−21 days.
Typically, cases recorded outside of Africa have been linked to international travel or animals that have been imported.
The CDC is urging healthcare providers in the U.S. to be alert for patients who have rashes consistent with monkeypox, regardless of whether they have traveled or have specific risks for monkeypox. See more information from the travel notice here.