The world isn’t done with the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic, and now another pathogen has public health officials on high alert: the monkeypox virus.
Monkeypox is a rare viral disease seldom detected outside of west and central Africa, where the disease is endemic. Recently, it has emerged in places globally where it isn’t endemic and impacted populations that aren’t typically vulnerable to the virus, which causes a rash, skin pustules, fever and body aches.
As of May 21, the World Health Organization reported 92 laboratory-confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases in 12 countries where the disease isn’t endemic, including the United States. On May 23, the CDC said there has been one laboratory-confirmed case in Massachusetts and four suspected cases in three U.S. states — Florida, New York and Utah. Those infected are mostly men, but in the past, monkeypox cases have mostly occurred in children.
Monkeypox showing up in places where it isn’t endemic and affecting a different population is concerning public health officials. The initial sequencing of the monkeypox cases shows the strain is similar to the endemic virus in west Africa — raising questions about how it was transmitted — as many of those who have become sick never traveled to Africa.
“The emergence of the virus in separate populations across the world where it doesn’t usually appear has alarmed scientists — and sent them racing for answers,” wrote Max Kozlov in a May 20 Nature article. Much of what scientists know about monkeypox is based on 1,500 cases as of 2018.