A Massachusetts man has been diagnosed with monkeypox, a viral infection that has been recently found in clusters in Europe and Canada.
CNN reported the man had recently traveled to Canada. He has been hospitalized at Massachusetts General Hospital, in isolation, and is reportedly doing “quite well.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says monkeypox was first seen in 1958 during two outbreaks of a pox-like illness that spread through colonies of monkeys who were research subjects. The first human case was reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo “during an intensified effort to eliminate smallpox,” according to the CDC. It has since been seen in humans in other central and western African countries.
Monkeypox is not usually found in the United States, but this isn’t the first time an American has been diagnosed. The New York Times noted a case each in Texas and Maryland last year. Each involved a single resident who had traveled to Nigeria.
The latest case is getting more attention because of recent unusual clusters in other countries. Spain has 23 suspected cases. Portugal confirmed five and is investigating 15, the Times reported. Canadian public health officials are looking at 15 or more in Montreal. The United Kingdom also reported its first case this month.
In 2003, 47 confirmed and probable cases were reported in six U.S. states and each of those identified had been in physical contact with pet prairie dogs. The CDC said that was the first time cases were reported outside of Africa.
The World Health Organization says thousands of infections occur in about a dozen African countries annually. It is most often found in Congo and Nigeria, with roughly 10,000 cases total each year.
How does monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox is transmitted by contact with infected animals, humans or contaminated materials by way of broken skin, respiratory tracts or the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth. It can be transmitted with a bite or scratch, direct contact with lesion material or by respiratory droplets. It is also possible that eating meat of an animal infected with the virus may lead to infection.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
In humans, symptoms are mild but not unlike the symptoms of smallpox. They typically start with a fever, headache, muscle aches and exhaustion. The primary difference between monkeypox and smallpox is swelling of the lymph nodes, which doesn’t happen with smallpox. The period from time of infection to symptoms is typically between seven and 14 days, though it can range between five and 21 days.
After the early symptoms mentioned above, the patient develops a rash that can first appear on the face but spreads, often to the chest and palms. Lesions progress and become pus-filled before they scab and fall off. Infection may last as long as a month. The CDC says 10% of cases in Africa are fatal.
Unfortunately, there’s no proven safe treatment. “For purposes of controlling a monkeypox outbreak in the United States, smallpox vaccine, antivirals and vaccinia immune globulin may be used,” according to the CDC.
Stopping the spread
Health officials say to avoid contact with animals that are ill or are found dead in areas where monkeypox occurs. That includes avoiding contact with materials the sick animal might have touched.
Infected patients should be isolated from others, according to health experts.