- Monkeypox is a rare disease in the same family of viruses as smallpox.
- Monkeypox infections occur primarily in Central and Western African countries and have only rarely been seen outside of Africa.
- In a November 17 media statement, the CDC announced a confirmed case of the disease in a Maryland resident who recently returned from travel to Nigeria.
- This is the second case of the monkeypox discovered in the United States this year.
What Is monkeypox?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is a rare disease that can begin with flu-like symptoms and swelling of the lymph nodes, before progressing to a rash that covers the face and body.
“Monkeypox is in the same family of viruses as smallpox,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline.
He explained that while it “typically” leads to a milder infection than smallpox, the virus could be spread between people through direct contact with monkeypox lesions, body fluids, or even contaminated materials like clothing or linens.
The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) confirms that most monkeypox infections can last 2 to 4 weeks. People possibly exposed to the virus will be monitored for signs of infection for about 3 weeks after exposure.
New case of monkeypox recently detected in Maryland
In a November 17 media statement, the CDC announced a confirmed case of the disease in a Maryland resident recently returned from travel to Nigeria.
The agency also said they are working with international health counterparts, the airline, and state and local health officials in the Washington, DC area to identify everyone who may have been in contact with the patient.
According to Glatter, human monkeypox infections occur primarily in Central and Western African countries and have only rarely been seen outside of Africa.
“While all strains can cause infection, the strains circulating in western Africa generally cause less severe disease,” he said.
Not the first case
The last U.S. monkeypox outbreak occurred in 2003 following an importation of exotic pets from Africa. The virus first caused infections in non-African captive species, including prairie dogs, before affecting people.
All people who developed the monkeypox infection in 2003 developed it after having contact with pet prairie dogs that had been kept near imported animals from Ghana. According to the CDC, this was the first time that human monkeypox was reported outside Africa.
Human-to-human infection happens through aerosols, similar to COVID-19.
“While it may also be spread through large respiratory droplets, which generally can’t travel more than 1 to 3 feet, prolonged face-to-face contact is typically required for transmission to occur,” said Glatter.
Monkeypox was first identified in 1958
Monkeypox virus was first discovered in 1958 during a disease outbreak in monkeys kept at an animal facility in Copenhagen, Denmark.
It wasn’t until 1970 that the first human case of monkeypox was identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Studies suggest there may be several species that harbor the virus, although the only reported case of monkeypox isolated from a wild animal involved a diseased squirrel.
“The natural reservoir of monkeypox is currently unknown,” said Glatter. “But a number of African rodent species are believed to play a role in transmission.”
Monkeypox is a ‘rare but serious’ illness, says the WHO
The CDC cautions that monkey pox is a “rare but serious” disease that reemerged in Nigeria in 2017 after more than 40 years with no reported cases.
“Since 2017, 218 cases have been confirmed in Nigeria and 8 cases have been reported in international travelers from Nigeria, including a case in Texas in July 2021 and the current case,” the agency said in a statement.
The CDC warns U.S. healthcare professionals to be “vigilant to poxvirus-like lesions, particularly among travelers returning from Nigeria.”
Also, because of the health risks associated with even a single case of monkeypox, they should immediately report suspected cases to state or local public health authorities “regardless of whether they are also exploring other potential diagnoses.”
Two distinct varieties of the monkeypox have been identified: the Congo Basin and the West African types, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with the Congo Basin virus being more virulent and transmissible.
Treating monkeypox infection
There is currently no standard treatment for monkeypox, and patients are at risk of complications that can include pneumonia, sepsis, and corneal infection leading to blindness.
Studies reveal that there is a lack of understanding about the most common and most significant complications of this illness, including number of deaths, or rates of aftereffects of infection.
“Our current understanding rests largely on case series and individual case reports,” researchers said.
The CDC points out that because monkeypox virus is closely related to the virus responsible for smallpox, smallpox vaccine can be used to effectively protect people from infection.
The bottom line
Monkeypox is a virus first identified in Africa that is related to smallpox, a disease eradicated worldwide in 1977.
Experts say respiratory droplets transmit the virus that causes the infection, and while potentially serious, the virus strains circulating in western Africa generally cause a less severe infection.
They also say that smallpox vaccine offers effective protection against monkeypox infection, although the vaccine is presently unavailable to the public.