By Spy Uganda Correspondent
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert Friday urging doctors and state health departments to be vigilant.
Monkeypox, which can be passed to animals and humans, is usually found in Central and West Africa. But many of the recent cases in the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere have no travel links to a place where monkeypox is regularly found, according to officials, suggesting the virus may be spreading through the community.
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. However, epidemiologists note that monkeypox doesn’t spread easily: Outbreaks are generally small, and an existing smallpox vaccine could help protect people if needed.
At this point, the general risk to the public is considered “very, very low,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Monkeypox is named for the animals in which it was discovered. The disease cropped up in 1958 among monkeys kept for research, according to the CDC — more than a decade before a human case was identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mass vaccination against smallpox “presumably” curbed monkeypox infections for a time among humans, researchers wrote in a 2005 article. But cases resurged, partly because of a lack of immunity in later generations, they say. More than 450 cases have been reported in Nigeria since 2017, according to the CDC.
Monkeypox infections typically last two to four weeks, the CDC says, and begin with flu-like symptoms and swelling of the lymph nodes. Eventually fluid-filled bumps — or “pox” — spread across the skin.
The disease can spread through contact with animals, infected people and materials used by infected people, health authorities say. Examples listed by the CDC include contact with bodily fluids, contact with monkeypox sores and infection through “respiratory droplets” in a “close setting” such as a shared household.
That milder strain is the one infecting people who were hospitalized in Britain, health authorities said. It is not clear which strain the Massachusetts patient contracted.
Experts stress that monkeypox is different from the coronavirus that has infected millions.
Monkeypox is highly visible, making contact tracing and isolation easier. An existing smallpox vaccine could help protect the public if needed, Katzourakis said. And “we don’t have the potential for something spreading through the globe at anything like the kind of rate that we saw with covid,” he said because monkeypox transmits less easily between humans.
Outbreaks of monkeypox have typically been small, with patients in the single digits, said Inglesby, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “So I think the risk to the general public at this point, from the information we have, is very, very low.”
But he agreed the latest cases raise many questions. “We don’t really have the sense yet of what’s driving it. … There isn’t a travel link that’s identified that brings these cases altogether,” he said.