More cases of the rare disease have been reported worldwide, including in the United States – where a health official said he expects more cases in the coming days.
As of Saturday, 92 confirmed and 28 suspected monkeypox cases are being investigated in 12 countries, the World Health Organization said in a press release.
Confirmed cases have been identified in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States — which had between one and five confirmed cases of monkeypox as of Saturday, according to the World Health Organization. She said.
“The situation is evolving and WHO expects that there will be more cases of monkeypox identified as surveillance expands in non-endemic countries,” the press release said.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, told ABC he wouldn’t be surprised if the US saw “a few” cases of monkeypox in the coming days.
“But I feel like this is a virus that we understand, we have vaccines against, we have treatments against, and it spreads very differently than SARS-CoV-2” — the virus that causes Covid-19, Jha told an ABC reporter on Sunday.
“It is not as contagious as Covid. So I am confident that we will be able to keep our arms around it,” Jha said. “But we will be tracking that closely and using the tools we have to make sure that we can continue to prevent further spread and take care of infected people.”
Health experts say close contact with an infected person is required to spread the monkeypox virus.
Infection can develop after exposure to “broken skin, mucous membranes, respiratory droplets, infected body fluids or even contact with contaminated linen,” according to Neil Mabbott, personal chair in immunopathology at the University of Edinburgh’s Veterinary School in Scotland.
Although experts say monkeypox is not as contagious as Covid-19, President Joe Biden said everyone should be concerned about the spread of monkeypox — even as scientists work to learn more about the recent outbreak.
“They haven’t told me the level of exposure yet, but it’s something everyone should feel,” Biden told a CNN reporter as he left South Korea on Sunday.
“We’re working hard to find out what we’re doing and what, if any, vaccine might be available for it,” Biden said. “It is a concern because if it is published it will be a consequence. That is all they told me.”
CNN previously reported that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is evaluating whether the smallpox vaccine should be offered to health care workers who treat monkeypox patients and other people who may be “at high risk” of exposure to monkeypox.
The poxvirus that causes smallpox and the monkeypox virus are somewhat related, as they are both members of the genus Orthopoxviruses – belonging to the scientific family of “pox” viruses. Therefore, it has also been shown that some vaccines given to prevent smallpox prevent monkeypox.
The initial symptoms of monkeypox are usually flu-like, such as fever, chills, fatigue, headache, and muscle weakness.
“The advantage that distinguishes monkeypox from that of smallpox is the development of swollen lymph nodes,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Then, a widespread rash usually appears on the face and body – including the inside of the mouth, on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
The painful, raised pox is pearly and fluid-filled, often surrounded by red circles. The CDC said the lesions eventually peel and disappear over two to three weeks.
Historically, monkeypox cases have typically been reported from West Africa or Central Africa, said Jennifer McQueston, deputy director of the Division of Pathogens and High Outcome Diseases within the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Animal Infectious Diseases.
“We have a level of scientific concern about what we’re seeing because this is a very unusual situation,” McCuston told CNN Thursday.
“We don’t see it in the United States or in Europe – and the number of cases that are being reported is definitely outside the normal range of what we’re seeing,” McQuiston said.
A senior British health official told the BBC on Sunday that people should be aware of monkeypox – but the risk to the general public “remains very low at the moment”.
“I think people need to be wary of that,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor for the UK’s Health Security Agency.
“We really want doctors to be on the alert for that and send the test in if they’re concerned.”
Based on reports from Africa, the Occupational Health and Safety Services Agency (UKHSA) knows that some people are “at higher risk of serious illness, especially immunosuppressed individuals or young children,” Hopkins said.
While “there is no direct vaccine for monkeypox,” Hopkins said, “we use a type of smallpox vaccine or a third-generation smallpox vaccine that is safe for individuals in contact with the cases.”