May 23, 2022 - Health

Monkeypox symptoms to watch for as first U.S. outbreak cases reported

Electron microscope image of various virus particles of the monkeypox virus taken from human skin
Electron microscope image of various virus particles of the monkeypox virus taken from human skin. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

More questions about the typical symptoms of monkeypox are emerging as health officials investigate a global uptick of the virus, which is rarely found outside of Africa.

Why it matters: Many cases in the growing monkeypox outbreak have been found in people with no travel links to places where it typically circulates. Health officials have so far detected cases in much of Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia.

What they're saying: President Biden said on Sunday that the recent spread of monkeypox in at least 12 countries is "something that everybody should be concerned about."

  • "It is a concern in that if it were to spread, it would be consequential," Biden told reporters at Osan Air Base in South Korea, where he met with troops before heading to Japan on the next leg of his Asia trip.
  • But Daniel Bausch, an infectious disease expert and president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, told Axios last week: "I don't think there's a reason for panic. I don't think we're going to have tens of thousands of cases."

According to the CDC, the illness begins with these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes (also called lymphadenopathy)
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion

Of note: Within one to three days after the fever, patients typically develop a rash, which often begins on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body, the CDC said.

  • "There is no specific treatment for monkeypox virus infection, although antivirals developed for use in patients with smallpox may prove beneficial," the CDC notes.

Details: Monkeypox, which can be transmitted by droplets and by close contact with infected skin lesions or contaminated materials, usually incubates in people for five to 13 days before symptoms appear.

  • Transmission can come from animals or human-to-human contact, but "it is generally documented among very close contacts. So family members, people taking care of ill patients. Or health care providers," Andrea McCollum, the poxvirus epidemiology team lead at the CDC, told STAT News.
  • Children are at higher risk, and monkeypox can cause pregnancy complications or stillbirth, per the WHO.
  • Doctors should suspect monkeypox if patients have a rash after they've traveled to countries with confirmed cases or if a patient has reported having contact with someone who has been to one of those countries, the CDC said in a health alert.
  • Officials in the U.K. have identified many of the recent monkeypox cases in gay or bisexual men, possibly stemming from close contact at bars and parties.

Keep in mind: UNAIDS, a joint United Nations program, said in a statement it is concerned that "some public reporting and commentary on Monkeypox has used language and imagery, particularly portrayals of LGBTI and African people, that reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbate stigma."

  • "Lessons from the AIDS response show that stigma and blame directed at certain groups of people can rapidly undermine outbreak response," per UNAIDS.

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