Monkeypox Cases on the Rise: What to Know
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant speaks at a press conference related to the arrival of Monkeypox on May 20, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. Brook Mitchell/Getty Images
• Dozens of monkeypox cases have been reported in multiple countries in Europe, and the outbreak has since spread to North America and Australia.
• The rare disease is similar to smallpox but less severe.
• The World Health Organization says the outbreak is primarily spreading through sex. The (CDC) is tracking “multiple clusters” of monkeypox reported in the past two weeks in countries where the disease isn’t normally present, including Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. On May 18, the CDC confirmed a patient had the disease in Massachusetts. They’re currently collaborating with the state’s Department of Public Health to investigate the case of monkeypox in a Massachusetts resident who recently visited Canada using private transportation. On May 20, New York health officials confirmed the disease is present in New York City, and NBC South Florida reported a “presumptive case” in Broward County, Florida. Canada has also reported several cases.
According to CNBC, Belgium is the first to mandate 21-day quarantine for monkeypox patients. The U.K. recommends those at “high risk” for monkeypox self-isolate for 21 days to reduce transmission risk. People at high risk for infection include those who had:
• Direct exposure to broken skin or mucous membranes of a symptomatic monkeypox case
• Exposure to body fluids of people with monkeypox infection
• Exposure to potentially infectious material like clothing or bedding without wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
According to the (WHO), monkeypox is a viral disease originating in animals and is typically found in the tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa. The organization says it resembles smallpox—a related infection declared eradicated worldwide in 1980. It is also less contagious than smallpox and causes less severe illness. The WHO says scientists have identified several animals as susceptible to the monkeypox virus, including rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, non-human primates, and other species. As of May 21, the organization 92 laboratory-confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox from 12 Member States not endemic to the monkeypox virus, with no deaths yet reported. However, much about the disease is still a mystery. “Uncertainty remains on the natural history of monkeypox virus, and further studies are needed to identify the exact reservoir(s) and how virus circulation is maintained in nature,” said the .
“Early symptoms include fever, chills, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle and body aches, and exhaustion,” Hannah Newman, MPH, director of epidemiology at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Healthline. According to Newman, the most obvious symptom is painful blisters. “In 1 to 3 days after fever onset, there is generally the development of a rash or “pox” that consists of painful blisters and lesions that often begin on the face and spread to other parts of the body, especially the face, palms, and soles of the feet,” she explained. Newman said most monkeypox cases resolve over time. “But the rash and pustules can last for several weeks,” she said. “Mortality has been estimated to be 1 to 10 percent, depending on the strain. Thankfully, the strain identified in the UK cases has been associated with a lower mortality rate, about one percent.”
Who is most at risk? Newman said that risk factors for monkeypox include contact with live or dead animals, consumption of wild game or bush meat, or close contact with an infected individual. “Severe disease and mortality [are] higher among children, young adults, and immunocompromised individuals,” she noted. She added that there have been cases without travel to areas where the disease is established in the current outbreak, and “it is thought that sexual transmission may play a role.” “While sexual orientation, specifically those who identify as gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men, has been shown to be a commonality in this particular outbreak,” she emphasized. “It is important to note that anyone with close contact could contract the virus.”
Newman said there’s no monkeypox-specific treatment, but antiviral drugs and used against smallpox are effective in this disease. The smallpox vaccine is about 85 percent effective at preventing monkeypox. “Currently “ ” strategies are in place to vaccinate close contacts of confirmed cases to try to cut off transmission,” said Newman. “Due to fears of smallpox being used as bioweapons, there is actually a good supply of vaccine available in the US, should it be needed.” She pointed out that the mode of transmission for this virus is much easier to prevent and control than a virus with aerosolization components like measles or COVID-19. Newman added that disease prevention strategies in response to COVID-19 could also help against monkeypox. “Including social distancing, masking, increasing ventilation, and staying home if we are sick,” said Newman. “Hand hygiene is also really key since this is a DNA virus which is better suited to survive on surfaces.”