Monkeypox is spreading across Europe and the first U.S. case was confirmed on May 18, when a man who lives in Massachusetts and had recently traveled to Canada was diagnosed.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced the case and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tests confirmed the infection.
Several cases have been confirmed in Portugal and Spain has seven cases. The U.K. Health Security Agency announced on May 18 that it had detected two additional cases, bringing to nine the number reported there this month.
Monkeypox causes fever, body aches, enlarged lymph nodes, and eventually “pox,” or painful, fluid-filled blisters on the face, hands, and feet, NPR reported.
One version of monkeypox has been found to kill up to 10 percent of people infected. The version currently in England is milder — its fatality rate is less than 1 percent. A case of monkeypox generally resolves in two to four weeks.
Most often, people contract monkeypox from animals in West or central Africa when people kill or prepare bushmeat for consumption and import the virus to other countries. Person-to-person transmission isn’t common. The exchange of bodily fluids such as saliva from coughing or pus from the lesions is necessary for the infection to be passed from person to person. But in England, seven of the eight cases don’t involve recent travel to Africa, NPR reported.
This could be the start of a global infection, said Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s division of high consequence pathogens and pathology, in a STAT report.
“Since we’re seeing this expansion of confirmed and suspect cases globally, we have a sense that no one has their arms around this to know how large and expansive it might be. And given how much travel there is between the United States and Europe, I am very confident we will see cases in the United States,” McQuiston said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, who leads the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit in the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, told STAT on Wednesday, “We have had positive cases identified in the U.K., Portugal, and Spain. And we expect there will be others.”
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So far, most of the cases have been detected in men who are gay or bisexual, or men who have sex with men, Van Kerkhove said, but cautioned against over-focusing on that fact.
The monkeypox virus is related to the variola virus, which caused smallpox, a disease that was eradicated in 1980.
In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine for monkeypox, which also protects against smallpox, NPR reported.
The name “monkeypox” comes from the first documented cases of the illness in 1958 when two outbreaks occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, the CDC said on its website.
Monkeys, however, aren’t major carriers. The virus likely persists in squirrels, pouched rats, dormice (nocturnal rodents in Africa known for their long periods of hibernation) or other rodents.
Photo: This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. On May 18, 2022, Portuguese health authorities confirmed five cases of monkeypox in young men, marking an unusual outbreak in Europe of a disease typically limited to Africa. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP)