Monkeypox hasn’t killed anyone in the locations reporting sudden clusters in the U.S., but the disease causes unpleasant rashes, particularly in the genital area, and can leave scarring on persons who recover, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“No deaths have been reported in these outbreaks in either the U.S cases or in other countries. That being said, we don’t want to minimize this condition,” said Capt. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.
She said some patients have required pain medication for the lesions that scab over and then fall off.
The CDC has recorded 21 monkeypox cases in the U.S. One of the cases was detected and confirmed abroad but the patient, like all the others, is in isolation in the U.S. during recovery.
Cases have been identified in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Washington state.
As of Friday, a spreadsheet from a University of Oxford researcher recorded over 1,000 confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox around the globe, including many in Europe.
The CDC said of the 17 cases for which they have relevant information, 16 of the patients identified as men who have sex with other men, and the remaining one was a woman who has heterosexual relations.
The Biden administration has been careful to say anyone can get monkeypox through close personal contact. However, they want the gay and bisexual community to know the trend among known cases.
“We’re working to really make sure they are getting the message they need to help stop onward spread,” Capt. McQuiston said.
Fourteen of the known cases had a history of international travel, though the CDC said it is possible that some people caught the disease in the U.S. and some transmission might be going undetected.
“This could be happening in other parts of the United States. There could be community level transmission that is happening,” Capt. McQuiston said.
Federal scientists expressed hope the outbreak can be contained, since the virus spreads through close personal contact and not as efficiently as pathogens like the virus that causes COVID-19.
Health officials are deploying smallpox vaccines to high-risk contacts of known patients, since the shots in national stockpiles can be effective against monkeypox, a related virus.
So far, the U.S. has distributed 1,200 vaccines and 100 treatment courses to eight jurisdictions and “we have more to offer states,” said Raj Panjabi, senior director for global health security and biodefense at the White House.
Monkeypox is marked by fevers and an obvious rash. Cases are typically found in West and Central Africa and result in humans from contact with rodents, yet the virus can spread from human to human through close personal contact.
Sequenced cases have suggested strong genetic links between the U.S. cases and the ones circulating in Europe. They share attributes with cases that have been known to circulate in Nigeria. This strain from West Africa is known to be less deadly than the Congo Basin strain, which can kill about one in 10 patients.
The outbreak could be linked in part to sexual contact at events in Europe, although scientists are still trying to piece together whether the cases share a common link or if the virus entered new places at various times in the past year.
For instance, Maryland in November identified an imported case in a traveler who returned from Nigeria.
Federal scientists said they still believe the risk to the public is low.
“I think we’re working very hard to contain it,” Capt. McQuiston said. “I think it’s too early to know whether monkeypox can become endemic [in the U.S.]”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.