After a Texas resident who recently traveled from Africa to the U.S. was hospitalized with monkeypox, officials are monitoring 200 people across 27 states for the disease, STAT News reports.
What is monkeypox?
According to the New York Times, monkeypox—so called because it was first identified in laboratory monkeys—is a rare viral infection that begins with flu-like symptoms and progresses to a distinctive rash on the face and body. Most infections resolve within two to four weeks, but some cases can be fatal, CDC said, especially for people with weakened immune systems.
According to USA Today, people can catch monkeypox through contact with infected animals or animal products. Human-to-human transmission, meanwhile, can occur via contact with bodily fluid, sores, or items contaminated by bodily fluid, but most often occurs via large respiratory droplets, which rarely travel more than a few feet. According to CDC, this means prolonged face-to-face contact is generally necessary for monkeypox to spread.
According to Dallas County Health and Human Services, asymptomatic people cannot spread the virus.
Although there are no specific treatments for monkeypox, at least one vaccine has been approved in the United States to protect against both monkeypox and smallpox, the New York Times reports.
Most monkeypox outbreaks have occurred in Africa, USA Today reports, where the first instance of the disease in humans occurred in 1970. The last known occurrence of the disease in America was in 2003, when it spread from imported African rodents to pet prairie dogs and ultimately infected 47 people. According to the New York Times, no deaths were reported amid that outbreak.
In the latest case, the unidentified man had traveled by plane from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta, Georgia, and then from Atlanta to Dallas, Texas, before seeking emergency care a few days later. Laboratory testing at CDC indicates the man was infected with a strain of monkeypox typically found in regions of West Africa, which CDC says can be fatal in between 1% and 10% of cases.
The individual is currently stable, and he remains in isolation.
No additional cases have yet been detected. Officials believe the risk that the man spread the virus is low, particularly given that—due to Covid-19 protocols—masks were required onboard his flights and in the airports he visited.
However, health officials are monitoring 200 people who may have been in contact with the patient to contain any potential outbreak, STAT News reports. This includes people who sat within six feet of the infected individual on the plane, as well as people who used the onboard bathroom, airline workers, and some of the individual's family members.
Specifically, CDC asked local health authorities to monitor the identified people until July 30, or 21 days after their potential exposure to the virus, STAT News reports. The incubation period for monkeypox ranges from three to 17 days, though most people develop symptoms within five to 13 days.
In addition, CDC said is asking that clinicians who are treating patients with a fever and a rash to solicit a travel history and consider a monkeypox diagnosis. Patients with suspected monkeypox should be isolated in a negative pressure room, the agency said, and health professionals should wear personal protective equipment, maintain proper isolation precautions, and consult their state health departments or the CDC monkeypox call center.
'There is very little risk to the general public'
Ultimately, however, Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said that that while health officials are working together to monitor the situation, the overall risk of a monkeypox outbreak are low.
"We have determined that there is very little risk to the general public," he said. "This is another demonstration of the importance of maintaining a strong public health infrastructure, as we are only a plane ride away from any global infectious disease." (Branswell, STAT News, 7/20; CDC, 7/17; Levenson, New York Times, 7/16; Segarra, USA Today, 7/18)