“The declaration of the public health emergency is an important acknowledgement of just how serious things have become,” says Dr. Jason Zucker, infectious diseases specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “This will hopefully allow public health agencies at both the federal and local levels to have the resources needed to tackle this disease.”
Drs. Furuya and Zucker explain what to know about the current outbreak, including the symptoms, the treatments, and the availability of vaccines.
What is human monkeypox virus?
Dr. Furuya: Human monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as the variola virus that causes smallpox. It has been known to cause infections in humans since the 1970s, and it has mostly been seen in Central and West Africa in people who had contact with animals like monkeys, squirrels, and other rodents. Up until this current outbreak, most infections outside of these African countries have been travel-related.
What do we know about the current rise in cases?
Dr. Furuya: As of August 9, the U.S. had about 9,500 confirmed cases, of which the greatest number have been reported in New York, at more than 2,100.
In this current outbreak, many of the cases happen to be spreading among social networks of people who self-identify as gay or bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Because many cases appear to be spreading through close, intimate contact within these social networks, people are often developing skin lesions localized to the genital, anal, and groin areas, and these can mimic sexually transmitted infections like syphilis and genital herpes. However, anyone in close contact with an infected person could get infected, and not all of the cases are occurring within these social networks.
Dr. Zucker: While the vast majority of those who have been diagnosed to date with human monkeypox virus are men who have sex with men, it is important to know that anyone can get and spread monkeypox. There have been a small number of secondary infections in children and women. In these cases, they were in close contact with someone who tested positive for human monkeypox virus. It is believed that the disease may be more severe in children under 8 and may lead to worse outcomes in pregnant women. For these reasons, we all have to pay attention and remain diligent.