On Friday, federal health officials advised clinicians to watch out for a telltale rash that could be a symptom of monkeypox, a rare viral infection discovered in the United States earlier this week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory on Friday, saying it was working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to investigate a confirmed case of monkeypox in the state.
Senior health officials told reporters the case “is highly unusual” as it does not appear to have a direct link to any of the West Central African countries where monkeypox is commonly seen.
Officials, speaking anonymously, said the Massachusetts case has similarities to some of the other monkeypox cases reported around the world right now, which also lack travel evidence.
“This is the only confirmed case recorded in the United States to date, but it is likely that there may be additional cases detected in the coming days as surveillance and testing begins to operate more actively to look for cases,” a senior administration official said. said the health official.
New York City health officials are also investigating a possible case of monkeypox.
Last year, the United States recorded two cases of monkeypox imported by travelers who had recently visited Nigeria. What is different in the case of this week and the clusters recorded in Canada, Europe and elsewhere is that they have no connection with travel.
“This is the first time we’ve seen this phenomenon on such a large scale, and that’s why we have some scientific concern about it,” the official said.
Still, the official stressed, “there appears to be a low risk to the general public at this time.”
The official said it was suspected the virus was being spread person-to-person through “close, intimate skin-to-skin contact with someone who has had an active rash”.
Unlike COVID-19, which is airborne, monkeypox is “not something you might bump into someone on the street,” the official said. Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required.
But it can be spread through shared objects like bedding, clothes, and toothbrushes.
Most of the cases detected so far are in men who have sex with men, health officials said, but not all have been.
“What we see here is not so much a sex-linked disease as a community of men who have – maybe had a lot of close contact,” another official said.
“It’s important to think about it this way because we have examples in the past where we’ve seen diseases that first emerged among [men who have sex with men]but were spreading into the community at large, and we want to remain vigilant that there may well be other communities affected by this,” the official said.
Officials said the United States has many doses of the antiviral drug Tpoxx, which treats the disease, in the strategic national stockpile.
The World Health Organization said on Friday there were about 130 confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox in countries where the disease is not endemic.