Everything CDC wants you to know about monkeypox and the current risk level

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Everything CDC wants you to know about monkeypox and the current risk level

Enlarge / A negative electron micrograph of a monkeypox virus virion in human vesicle fluid.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today provided an update on the monkeypox situation in the US, which is linked to a growing multinational outbreak. She also used the time to address open questions and allay some unfounded fears.

To date, there are five confirmed and probable cases in the US. The only confirmed case of monkeypox in the US was identified last week in a Massachusetts man who recently traveled to Canada. The four probable cases include one in New York City, one in Florida and two in Utah.

Those four cases are likely because they all tested positive for an orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses that includes monkeypox and smallpox. They are considered suspect cases of monkeypox and will be treated as such while the CDC conducts secondary testing to confirm monkeypox.

All five confirmed and probable cases in the US involve males and all have international travel histories consistent with the multinational outbreak.

The CDC also used today’s briefing to highlight that it had sequenced the monkeypox virus genome from the first case in Massachusetts. The genetic sequence agrees very well with that of a case in Portugal.

There are almost 250 confirmed and suspected cases from 17 countries worldwide, most of them in Europe. About 165 cases have been confirmed and 83 cases are suspected (you can follow the growing number here and here). Cases occur predominantly in males and particularly in males who identify as gay or bisexual or are men who have sex with men (MSM).

This is an unusual outbreak that needs immediate attention and quick action, according to health officials around the world. However, the risk for the general population is still considered to be low.

“This is not an easily transmitted virus through respiratory droplets and the like,” Capt. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of CDC’s Serious Consequences division, said in today’s briefing.

“This is not COVID,” she added. “We know a lot about monkeypox from decades of study, and respiratory spread is not the overriding concern. It is contact – and intimate contact – in the current outbreak environment and population. And we really wanted to emphasize that.”

Below is a brief overview of critical questions and answers:

What is the monkeypox virus?

Monkeypox is a smallpox-related DNA virus that infects animals and is endemic to forested areas of central and western Africa. It’s unclear which animal or animals serve as a reservoir for monkeypox, but rodents are the prime suspects. The virus can also infect rats, squirrels, prairie dogs, various species of monkeys, and other animals.

It got its name when researchers first detected the virus in monkeys in a Danish lab in 1958, according to the World Health Organization. The first human case was identified in a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970.

It is commonly believed that humans become infected through hunting and handling wild animals and bushmeat.

There are two groups of monkeypox: the West African group and the Congo Basin group. The West African group is the milder of the two, with an estimated human mortality rate of about 1 percent. The Congo Basin group has an estimated mortality rate of up to 10 percent.

Which group is causing the current outbreak?

The West African group, the milder.

What are the symptoms?

Once infected, a person typically develops symptoms five to 13 days after exposure, but the incubation period can range from five to 21 days.

Monkeypox usually begins with a fever and flu-like symptoms, particularly headache, fatigue, muscle pain, and swollen lymph nodes. One to three days later, skin lesions develop all over the body (a telltale rash), but are usually concentrated on the face and extremities, especially the palms and soles. The lesions begin flat at the base and then become elevated and filled with fluid. A crusted scab then forms over each lesion, which later falls off. The number of lesions that an infected person develops can range from a few to several thousand, according to the WHO.

The disease generally lasts two to four weeks and resolves without specific treatments.

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