US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say that six people in the United States are being monitored for Monkeypox. Monkeypox infections have been detected recently in clusters around the world with possible cases in the United States related to international travel.
Six people exhibited symptoms after sitting near an infected passenger on a flight to the United Kingdom from Nigeria earlier this month. Another confirmed case involves a Massachusetts man who recently traveled to Canada.
The New York City Health Department is also investigating a possible case at Bellevue Hospital.
According to a press release by the CDC earlier this week, all appropriate isolation protocols are being followed in the suspected Bellevue case, and if preliminary tests come back positive, they will be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further confirmation.
Any individuals who may have been in contact with the patient while infectious will also be monitored.
Monkeypox, though rare in the United States, presents as flu-like symptoms including swollen lymph nodes followed by lesions or a rash on the face or body including the palms of hands and soles of feet.
Some cases have been identified in other countries with low probability rates such as the UK, Spain, Italy, Northern Ireland and Canada.
Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology within the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Thursday that Monkeypox infection is unusual in the United States and Europe, causing ‘scientific concern.’
The last time cases of Monkeypox were reported in the United States was in 2003. Forty-seven cases were confirmed in six states, however none were attributed to person-to-person contact.
Rather, prairie dogs from an Illinois breeder were believed to have contracted the virus from smaller mammals imported from Ghana and housed in the same facility. The dogs then passed the virus to humans.
McQuiston added that the general public should not be concerned about contracting the disease given the extremely low numbers of cases being reported, which are no more than one or two dozen.
While the outbreak is concerning from a public health standpoint, Monkeypox is not expected to sweep across the country.
CDC spokesperson Chrstine Pearson wrote in an email that the six people being monitored "are healthy, with no symptoms and are considered at low risk for monkeypox." None were in direct contact with the ill passenger nor seated nearby.
What is Monkeypox?
According to the CDC, Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 among colonies of monkeys kept for research purposes.
In the 1970s the first reported case of Monkeypox in humans was identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and, since that time, has been seen mostly in West and Central Africa.
Cases in humans outside of those regions have been linked to international travel and the importation of animals.
While the natural cause remains unknown, the CDC says African rodents and non-human primates like monkeys may harbor the virus and infect people.
The CDC is also considering the Smallpox vaccine for frontline workers and others at high risk of contracting Monkeypox. Because the variola viruses are similar, the Smallpox vaccine can provide up to 85 percent protection against Monkeypox.
Minor reactions from the vaccine are considered less serious than the risks associated with being exposed to Monkeypox, which kills 1-10 percent of infected persons. However, in rare cases (1-2 people out of one million), vaccines can cause life-threatening reactions or death.
Getting vaccinated 4-14 days after exposure can also reduce the symptoms of Monkeypox, but may not prevent the disease.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN that people should not be worried as Monkeypox in humans is rare. Even so, people should be aware of the symptoms, which are similar to the flu, and to speak to their doctors if they have any concerns.
The CDC investigation is ongoing.