Officials in Broward County, Florida, are investigating a presumptive case of monkeypox, the first in the state amid unusual clusters of the virus outside of Africa.
County officials said the case is related to international travel. The patient has been isolated and officials are notifying possible contacts, according to Local10 News.
The Florida patient joins confirmed cases in New York City and Massachusetts.
Monkeypox is related to smallpox but results in a milder disease.
Patients are popping up on multiple continents, which is unusual because cases are usually contained in West and Central Africa.
“This is the first time we’re seeing many cases among people who have not traveled to the endemic regions in Africa,” Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of the smallpox secretariat at the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said Monday in a social-media Q&A.
Dr. Lewis said monkeypox tends to be a stable virus, meaning the likelihood of a sudden mutation akin to the recurring coronavirus variants is low. However, scientists are looking at sequences to understand if it is changing.
Maria Van Kerkhove, a top WHO official on emerging diseases, said the globe should not take its “eye off the ball” in addressing monkeypox in parts of Africa. She said the new outbreaks will shine a light on those cases.
Since 2017, Nigeria had been the epicenter of outbreaks, with more than 500 suspected cases and over 200 confirmed cases. Roughly 3% of cases resulted in death.
The disease typically produces a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a telltale rash that can spread all over the body.
A researcher at the University of Oxford posted a spreadsheet listing nearly 200 confirmed or suspected cases around the globe, including Europe and Australia.
The virus is spread through close personal contact, so scientists expect it to be contained better than a disease like COVID-19.
However, President Biden said the situation shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“It is a concern in that, if it were to spread, it would be consequential,” Mr. Biden said Sunday.
There are antiviral drugs for monkeypox and the smallpox vaccine, which hasn’t been widely administered since the disease was eradicated decades ago, can be given to possible contacts of infected persons.
For that reason, Mr. Biden said he doesn’t see the need for draconian orders, such as a lengthy quarantine for contacts of infected persons.
“No, I don’t think so,” Mr. Biden told reporters in Japan. “I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19, and a smallpox vaccine works for it. But I think people should be careful.”
The new cases largely have been linked to gay men who have traveled recently, though anyone can contract the disease through close contact.
The cases are not necessarily being sexually transmitted because other kinds of close contact can spread the virus, said Andy Seale, a strategies adviser at the WHO’s Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programs.
“We’re still in the early days of this outbreak so there is a lot we’re still learning,” Mr. Seale said.