Massachusetts General Hospital is seen last Friday in Boston, Mass., where the first monkeypox case in the United States was documented. Photo by CJ Gunther/EPA-EFE
U.S. health officials say there are several confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox — a transmissible viral disease that’s popped up recently in locations worldwide — in the United States and that they’re working to release vaccine doses from a national stockpile.
Dozens of confirmed cases around the world have been documented in recent weeks — mostly in Britain, Spain and Portugal — and the Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention says that there’s been one confirmed case in the United States in Massachusetts. Other cases have been confirmed in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and several other countries.
The CDC said that there are also at least six suspected monkeypox cases — in Florida, New York, Utah and Washington state. At least four of those cases are expected to be confirmed, the agency said.
Monkeypox is an infectious viral disease first found in a monkey in the late 1950s and the first human case emerged about 50 years ago. Symptoms include skin rash and blisters along with fever, headache, muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes and lethargy.
The World Health Organization said this week that it’s tracking about 100 confirmed cases and more than two dozen possible cases in a number of countries.
The new monkeypox cases have prompted concern among world leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden, who warned last weekend that “everybody” should be concerned about it.”
Monkeypox can be deadly and it’s estimated that, when untreated, about 10% of patients have died in central Africa, according to the WHO.
“I think that we need to pay close attention to the communities in which this might be circulating, so that we can communicate effectively with them and help bring this outbreak under control,” Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said in a briefing Monday.
McQuiston and other officials have said, however, that the monkeypox threat doesn’t rise to the level of COVID-19.
“This is not COVID,” McQuiston said, noting that the disease is relatively hard to pick up compared to the coronavirus.
The agency has said that men who identify as gay or bisexual should watch for potential symptoms. Advisers to the WHO have said that the current outbreak appears to have been amplified by sex among gay men in Europe, but they emphasized that anyone can become infected.
A vaccine for monkeypox was developed several years ago and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2019. There are millions of doses in the national stockpile.
McQuiston said that officials have requested a release of vaccines from the stockpile to get a handle on the small outbreak so far. She said the Jynneos vaccine is in “good stock” because it is also needed for smallpox.
Officials have said, however, that the general public doesn’t need to be vaccinated.
Monkeypox is endemic to Central and West Africa, but it’s been extremely rare in developed nations like the United States and Britain. It naturally circulates in animals like rodents and occasionally causes human outbreaks in Africa. Usually, only people who travel to those regions are able to spread the virus outside of the endemic areas.
“Monkeypox is never going to have the explosive spread that the coronavirus had,” Dr. David Freedman, president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, told BuzzFeed News.
“You might see clusters of cases in certain areas, especially if people aren’t taking precautions and are routinely touching each other in healthcare settings.”