As cases of monkeypox rise in Europe and other parts of the world, health authorities are expressing concern over the unusual rise, but also pointing out that the virus is far less transmissible than the coronavirus that has upended the world.
There are now more than 70 confirmed cases in Europe, according to a data tracker compiled by a collective of global health researchers, with additional infections found in the United States, Canada and Australia. More than 50 suspected cases of monkeypox are being investigated worldwide but have yet to be confirmed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert on Friday urging doctors and state health departments to be vigilant.
Monkeypox, which can be transmitted to animals and humans, is usually found in central and western Africa. But many recent cases in the UK, France and elsewhere have no travel connection to a place where monkeypox is regularly found, officials say, suggesting the virus could be spreading in the community. A case in Massachusetts is the first infection identified in the United States this year; New York City health officials said Friday that two patients had been tested and one had tested positive for orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses to which monkeypox belongs.
Monkeypox is not known to spread easily among humans. The fact that cases are emerging in multiple countries at once – with signs of “sustained” transmission in people – is striking, said Aris Katzourakis, professor of evolution and genomics at the University of Oxford. However, epidemiologists note that monkeypox does not spread easily: outbreaks are usually small, and an existing smallpox vaccine could help protect people if needed.
At this point, the overall risk to the public is considered “very, very low,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.