A vial used during monkeypox test.Share on Pinterest
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  • There have been 44 cases identified in the U.S.
  • Officials said that monkeypox is not as infectious as COVID-19 and is unlikely to be airborne.
  • The disease’s symptoms appear milder and present differently than in previous outbreaks.

There are now roughly 1,360 confirmed cases of monkeypox across 31 countries. Initial reports out of Europe only began emerging in mid-May, indicating the disease is spreading rapidly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The U.S. has reported at least 45 cases so far.

The disease is a cousin to smallpox and can result in painful round lesions that spread across the body in addition to other symptoms such as fever, aches and chills. Currently, no deaths have been associated with the disease during this outbreak.

In a telebriefing today CDC chief Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained the current situation here in the U.S.

Walensky pointed out that monkeypox is much less infectious than COVID-19 and is spread through close contact.

“Monkeypox is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids or sores on the body of someone who has monkeypox or with direct contact with materials that have been touched by, that have touched these bodily fluids or sores, such as clothing or linen,” said Walensky.

She clarified that the virus is not thought to spread through interactions such as having a casual conversation, passing in the grocery store, or touching the same item, such as a doorknob.

However, Walensky clarified that it is not yet known whether the virus may be spread through contact with semen or vaginal fluids, or the potential for transmission among people who are infected with monkeypox, but have no, or mild symptoms.

She said that what is known is that those diagnosed with monkeypox in this current outbreak described close, sustained physical contact with other people who were infected with the virus.

“This is consistent with what we’ve seen in prior outbreaks, and what we know from decades of study of this virus and closely related viruses,” she continued.

“In terms of symptoms, the current outbreak, we have seen presentations of monkeypox that are mild and sometimes only limited areas of the body,” said Walensky.

She noted that this differs from how the disease manifests in endemic countries in West and Central Africa, which has prompted concern that some cases may go unrecognized or undiagnosed.

“Historically, people with monkeypox report flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body aches, and swollen glands, before a characteristic, often diffuse rash appears on multiple sites of the body, often on the face, arms, and hands,” she explained.

But, she emphasized that during the current outbreak, patients are instead developing a localized rash, often around the genitals or anus, before they experience any flu-like symptoms at all, and some haven’t even developed such flu-like symptoms.

“Further, in many, the rash doesn’t always extend beyond the initial sites, or it extends to only a few sites versus around most areas of the body. The rash that develops may look like chickenpox or a sexually transmitted infection,” Walensky said.

She also stressed that anyone experiencing symptoms of monkeypox, such as rashes or lesions, should talk to their healthcare provider.

“While the overall risk of monkeypox in the United States public is currently low, we do want people to be aware of the signs and symptoms and to seek care right away,” Walensky said.

Dawn O’Connell, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, said the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), has supported development and procured vaccines that include:

  • Jynneos, to prevent smallpox and monkeypox
  • Tpoxx, a smallpox treatment used for monkeypox
  • ACAM2000, an FDA-approved smallpox vaccine that also protects against monkeypox

According to O’Connell, the strategic national stockpile (SNS) holds enough vaccine, both Jynneos and ACAM2000, to vaccinate tens of millions of Americans if needed.

“This includes more than 100 million doses of ACAM2000 available for vaccination against monkeypox,” she said. “While we need to remain vigilant and contain the threat of monkeypox, we have the vaccines and treatments we need to respond.”

“To assess how we’re doing in this response, I’ve previously spoken about the three primary indicators, what I call the ‘three Ts,’” said Dr. Raj Panjabi, Senior Director for Global Health Security & Biodefense, The White House.

He said the first T is testing, with over 300 PCR orthopox tests performed to date.

“We’ve seen a more than 45 percent increase in week-on-week testing,” said Panjabi, “With spare capacity to conduct over a thousand tests per day.”

The second area of performance CDC is looking at is tracing contacts.

“The reason that is vital in this epidemic is because it allows us to monitor for symptoms amongst those individuals who’ve been exposed to someone with monkeypox, and health departments are able to assess an individual’s risk of exposure and offer vaccines,” he said.

The third T is timely access to vaccines and treatment, he continued.

“We want to ensure that people with high-risk exposures have rapid access to vaccines and that if they get sick, they can receive appropriate treatment,” said Panjabi. “Thankfully, to date, we have not seen any monkeypox-related deaths.”

Asked how confident the agency is that this virus isn’t airborne, O’Connell said that’s their conclusion after examining all the information they currently have.

“All of the cases that we have seen to date in this outbreak, as I mentioned, have been related to direct contact with materials that have touched, direct physical contact,” she said.

She explained that when the CDC considers airborne, they’re talking about small viral particles that become suspended in the air and can stay there for long periods of time.

“We have not seen documentation of that through our experience with this virus, or with prior similar viruses,” O’Connell said.

At a recent CDC telebriefing, the agency emphasized that monkeypox is spread by direct, physical contact, and isn’t an airborne disease.

They outlined a plan for this epidemic that involves contact tracing, testing, and timely access to vaccines to prevent infection.

The agency emphasized that anyone experiencing symptoms of monkeypox should seek medical care right away.