Health officials in the United States have detected the first case of the monkeypox virus in the country since similar reports emerged from several European countries.
Confirmed or suspected cases of the virus – which are usually found in parts of West and Central Africa and do not spread easily among humans – have now been reported in at least seven countries around the world, since the UK Agency Health Safety (UKHSA) discovered the first British case in early May.
Officials in the US state of Massachusetts said on Wednesday they were “working closely” with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health boards to identify close contacts of the infected person, who turned out to be a grown man with travel ties. in Canada.
Quebec health authorities are also investigating about 10 possible cases in the Canadian province, according to CBC News. On Thursday, public health agencies in Sweden and Italy confirmed at least one case of the virus.
A day earlier, Spanish health authorities said they had found a group of 23 people with suspicious symptoms while Portuguese authorities said they had five confirmed cases and were investigating another 15 possible cases.
Monkeypox, which is usually associated with skin lesions similar to those caused by chickenpox, is rarely detected in Europe and the United States. It usually spreads to people from species such as rodents and squirrels, but human-to-human transmission can occur through close contact.
Of the nine cases discovered in the UK, at least two had no travel links to countries where the virus is endemic, suggesting that “it is possible that they acquired the infection through community transmission” , according to the UKHSA. The cases have mainly occurred in homosexual and bisexual men.
The Massachusetts Health Department stressed that the US case “presents no risk to the public”, adding that the patient was “hospitalized and in good condition”.
Dr Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s chief medical adviser, said on Wednesday the agency ‘particularly urges gay and bisexual men to be aware of any unusual rashes or sores’ and to contact sexual health services if necessary .
There are two types of monkeypox virus. The West African “clade,” or family of viruses, causes less severe disease than the deadlier Congo Basin clade. So far, all monkeypox infections found in the UK have been from the West African clade, which the World Health Organization says has a case fatality rate of around 1%, compared to 10% for the clade of the Congo Basin.
Robert Steffen, Professor Emeritus at the University of Zurich’s Institute of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention, who published a peer-reviewed article this year on the changing epidemiology of monkeypox, predicted that the virus would “probably be elsewhere” in the coming weeks.
He said that while older people who received the smallpox vaccine had “pretty robust” immunity, younger generations were “completely unimmunized”. The smallpox vaccine, which also protects against monkeypox, has not been given routinely in the UK since 1971.
Steffen added that this lack of immunity could explain the latest outbreak, as well as an increase in imported cases. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have reported imported cases linked to travel to Nigeria in recent years.
“It’s difficult to predict whether these clusters will lead to a larger outbreak, or whether it will be possible to contain or just die out,” Steffen said, referring to the latest outbreak.
Geoffrey Smith, professor of pathology at the University of Cambridge, said that ultimately genome sequencing “would give us answers” as to whether monkeypox cases in North America and Europe were linked.
“In a larger context, it’s not an infection we should really be worried about,” he said. “We have a vaccine to prevent it, we have drugs that work against it, and it doesn’t spread easily between people because it requires very close contact.”