If you’re wondering whether you should be concerned about monkeypox since cases have now been found in multiple countries where it’s a rarity, the answer is you probably need not worry too much. For now at least.

But that could change, according to public health officials who are monitoring the spread of the virus. They’re concerned because while early cases were linked to travel to Africa, where monkeypox is not uncommon, “more recent infections are thought to have spread in the community, raising the risk of a wider outbreak,” CNBC reported.

According to The Washington Post, “Monkeypox is not known to spread easily among humans. The fact that cases are emerging in several countries at once — with signs of ‘sustained’ transmission in people — is striking, said Aris Katzourakis, a professor of evolution and genomics at the University of Oxford.”

Monkeypox is sometimes seen in central and west Africa and small outbreaks have been found elsewhere periodically, including in the United States in 2003. But there’s some concern right now because of the sheer geographic spread that’s happening: cases have been confirmed in the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal and Canada this month and there’s been a new case each this week in Germany and in Australia.

The U.S. has one confirmed case of monkeypox in Massachusetts, but now health officials are investigating the possibility of a case in New York, too, according to The New York Times.

Mysterious spread

While some of those cases have been linked to travel to areas where the virus is more common, that’s not true of all of them. As monkeypox spreads, so could the areas where one could become infected.

NPR reported that “health officials have little clue where people caught the monkeypox virus. And there’s concern the virus may be spreading through the community — undetected — and possibly through a new route of transmission.”

“Rare and unusual” is how epidemiologist Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser of the U.K. Health Security Agency, described the outbreak Monday for the agency website. The United Kingdom now has 20 cases confirmed.

“The virus does not usually spread easily between people and the risk to the U.K. population remains low,” the agency said. But it warned spread is possible through close contact or contact with clothing and linens used by someone who has been infected.

Sexual contact is now being investigated in some of the cases. Hopkins’ colleague Mateo Prochazka, an epidemiologist, tweeted: “This is a novel route of transmission that will have implications for outbreak response and control.”

“We are particularly urging men who are gay and bisexual to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions,” Hopkins said in her agency’s release.

As the Deseret News reported, monkeypox is more often spread by contact with infected animals, humans or contaminated materials through broken skin, the respiratory tracts or the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth.

What is monkeypox and where is it spreading?
A new monkeypox virus infection has been confirmed in the U.S.

Monkeypox prevention

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The early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. Typically, symptoms are mild. In the next stage, a rash develops — often on the face — that can spread to the chest and hands. The pus-filled lesions eventually scab over and fall off.

There’s no proven effective treatment, although the smallpox vaccine, antivirals and vaccinia immune globulin can be used, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Prevention’s the best tool. People are asked to be mindful of lesions and avoid close contact with them, as well as with animals that appear to be ill. And good hygiene — washing hands with soap and water, avoiding touching nose or mouth or rubbing one’s eyes, etc., which is also recommended to avoid spread of colds, COVID-19 and other ills — is always key.

The good news is that most people recover within a few weeks, though one version can kill up to 10% of those infected. NPR said the version circulating in England is milder, with a mortality rate below 1%.

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