The U.S. is investigating four presumed cases of monkeypox in addition to the confirmed case out of Massachusetts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.
One man in Broward County, Florida, and two men in Utah have submitted specimens that are being tested to confirm the presence of monkeypox in addition to the patient in New York City who was admitted last week.
The CDC said doctors should presume the cases are monkeypox and treat them as such until results are confirmed.
Officials are trying to piece together why the virus is popping up on multiple continents, which is unusual because cases are usually contained in West and Central Africa.
“This is the first time we’re seeing many cases among people who have not traveled to the endemic regions in Africa,” Dr. Rosamund Lewis of the World Health Organization said Monday in a social-media Q&A.
One leading theory is sexual transmission among gay and bisexual men at two raves held in Spain and Belgium served as a springboard for cases elsewhere around the globe.
“It’s very possible there was somebody who got infected, developed lesions on the genitals, hands or somewhere else, and then spread it to others when there was sexual or close physical contact,” Dr. David Heymann, an adviser to the WHO, told The Associated Press. “And then there were these international events that seeded the outbreak around the world, into the U.S. and other European countries.”
Officials say the latest cases have predominately impacted gay men who traveled recently, though warned that anyone could contract it through close contact with another person. They are alerting people to report new rashes.
The cases are not necessarily being sexually transmitted, because other kinds of close contact can spread the virus, said Andy Seale, a strategies adviser at the WHO’s Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programs.
“We’re still in the early days of this outbreak so there is a lot we’re still learning,” Mr. Seale said.
The first U.S. patient — in Massachusetts — had recently traveled to Canada, which is reporting its own clusters. CDC officials declined to discuss where the other U.S. cases had traveled for patient confidentiality reasons.
Dr. Lewis said monkeypox tends to be a stable virus, meaning the likelihood of a sudden mutation akin to the recurring coronavirus variants is low.
The CDC also said the Massachusetts case was similar to one in Portugal, which in turn matched the kinds of cases seen in West Africa, meaning the virus is akin to known strains in nature as opposed to something man made or from a lab.
Maria Van Kerkhove, a top WHO official on emerging diseases, said the world should not take its “eye off the ball” in addressing monkeypox in parts of Africa. She said the new outbreaks will shine a light on those cases.
Since 2017, Nigeria has been at the epicenter of outbreaks, with more than 500 suspected cases and over 200 confirmed cases. Roughly 3% of cases resulted in death.
The disease typically produces a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a telltale rash that can spread all over the body.
A researcher at the University of Oxford posted a spreadsheet listing nearly 250 confirmed or suspected cases around the globe, including Europe and Australia.
Because the virus is spread through close personal contact, scientists expect it to be contained better than a disease like COVID-19. However, President Biden said the situation shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“It is a concern in that, if it were to spread, it would be consequential,” Mr. Biden said Sunday.
There are antiviral drugs for monkeypox and the smallpox vaccine, which hasn’t been widely administered since the disease was eradicated decades ago, can be given to possible contacts of infected persons.
For that reason, Mr. Biden said he doesn’t see the need for draconian orders, such as a lengthy quarantine for contacts of infected persons.
“No, I don’t think so,” Mr. Biden told reporters in Japan. “I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19, and a smallpox vaccine works for it. But I think people should be careful.”
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
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