A man who had traveled to Canada has been diagnosed with monkeypox virus, a rare and potentially fatal disease, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported Wednesday.
This is the first report of monkey pox in the United States this year. Officials in Texas and Maryland each recorded one case last year. But the new case follows a series of unusual clusters in other countries that are beginning to alarm public health officials.
Britain has identified nine cases of monkey pox in recent weeks. Only one patient had traveled recently – to Nigeria, where a strain of monkeypox virus has been commonly seen – while the remaining British patients, who did not travel, may have contracted the infection through community transmission. Three patients shared a household.
Spain has 23 suspected cases. Portugal has confirmed five cases and is investigating another 15. Canadian health officials are investigating at least 15 possible cases in Montreal, according to an infectious disease specialist familiar with the effort but not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
“The fact that it’s in the UK in multiple unrelated clusters, plus Spain and Portugal, is a surprise,” said Dr Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Monkeypox is a more benign version of the smallpox virus and can be treated with an antiviral drug developed for smallpox. But unlike measles, Covid or the flu, monkey pox doesn’t usually cause major outbreaks.
Doctors need to become aware of the symptoms so they can quickly detect new cases, said Dr. Inglesby.
Monkeypox infection starts with fever and body aches. The most recognizable feature is a characteristic rash that begins with flat red spots, then becomes elevated and filled with pus.
The pustules appear on the face, chest and on the palm, “which is somewhat unusual,” said Dr. Inglesby.
The virus is endemic to parts of central and western Africa and can be spread through bites or scratches from rodents and small mammals. According to the World Health Organization, contact with live and dead animals through hunting and consumption of wild game or bushmeat are known risk factors.
The United States saw an outbreak of monkey pox in 2003 with dozens of cases. All were believed to have resulted from exposure to infected prairie dogs and other pets.
The virus does not jump between people, but can spread through bodily fluids, contaminated objects or through respiratory droplets emitted by an infected person. The cases reported in Britain and Canada were mostly among men who have sex with men.
“These latest cases, along with reports of cases in countries across Europe, confirm our initial concern that monkeypox could be spreading in our communities,” said Dr. Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UK Health Security Agency, said in a statement. on Tuesday. “This is rare and unusual.”
Men in those communities should watch for rashes or lesions on any part of their bodies, especially genitals, experts said.
Massachusetts health officials are working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and patient health care providers to identify individuals who may have come into contact while he was infectious, the officials said in a statement.
The person has been hospitalized and is in good condition, officials said.