Monkeypox in the U.S.: What you should know

The CDC has confirmed that more than 200 people are being monitored for signs of the rare, but potentially dangerous virus.

Maija Kappler 3 minute read July 21, 2021

The good news is, transmission of monkeypox can be prevented by wearing face masks.

Just what 2021 needs: another viral infection.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services has confirmed that there was a case of monkeypox — a rare, but potentially serious zoonotic virus — in a man who had recently returned from Nigeria.

Luckily, no cases of monkeypox have been reported so far in Canada, and its spread seems to be contained by the use of masks.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why are we talking about this?
A Texas man was diagnosed with monkeypox earlier this month, the first time the virus has made its way to North American since 2003. He had flown from Lagos, Nigeria to Dallas, and then on to Atlanta. Health officials are working to track down fellow passengers who may have been exposed to the illness — but the good news is that transmission is unlikely, because everyone on the flight was wearing masks.

What are the symptoms?
Monkeypox infection starts with flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, muscle aches, low energy. One distinctive symptom from the early period of infection that distinguishes monkeypox from similar illnesses like smallpox, chickenpox or measles is swelling of the lymph nodes, located on the neck, under the chin, and in the armpits and groin.

After a few days, monkeypox will cause a rash on the face, hands and feet, which turn into lesions. They often change in size before eventually falling off. According to the World Health Organization, a case of monkeypox generally lasts between two and four weeks.

Is it dangerous?
In rare cases, monkeypox can be fatal, but health authorities say it’s unlikely that will happen in this recent case. The Texas man is hospitalized and stable, NBC News reported. And no one died during the 2003 outbreak in the U.S., where 47 people were infected across six states.

“This case is not a reason for alarm and we do not expect any threat to the general public,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a press release.

Why is it called monkeypox?
The virus was first detected in lab monkeys in Denmark. Its suffix comes from its connection to smallpox, a formerly deadly disease that was finally eradicated in the 1980s due to the smallpox vaccine.

The original source or sources of the monkeypox virus have not been identified, though cases have been linked to the handling of bushmeat and the trade of exotic small mammals, Andrea McCollum, who leads the poxvirus epidemiology unit at the agency’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told StatNews.

Is it likely to spread?
The virus spreads through a variety of ways: inhalation of respiratory droplets from infected people or contact with their lesions or bodily fluids, according to McCollum. The virus can also be transmitted by having contact with bed linens or other items that have been used by an infected person.

And while monkeypox can spread from person to person, “it’s not all that contagious,” infectious disease specialist William Schaffner told Prevention. The good news is that wearing masks, which most of us are still doing due to the pandemic, can help to prevent human-to-human transmission.