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Recent Monkeypox Case Unlikely to Cause Outbreak, Experts Say

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Key Takeaways

  • A Texas resident has been infected with monkeypox, a virus similar to smallpox, after coming home from Nigeria. 
  • More than 200 people who came into contact with the patient are being monitored by the CDC. 
  • The U.S. will unlikely see a monkeypox outbreak and this single case should not be cause for concern, health experts say.

A Texas man recently contracted monkeypox, a rare infectious disease that has not been seen in the United States since 2003.

Before flying home on July 8 from Nigeria, he noticed a strange rash on his skin. He was hospitalized in isolation several days after arriving at Dallas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now working with local airlines and health officials to trace people who may have been in contact with the patient.

More than 200 people from 27 states are being monitored for possible infections, Stat reported. No new cases have been detected so far.

What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox, first identified in laboratory monkeys, is a rare viral disease that occurs mostly in Western and Central Africa. Human monkeypox infections are rare. Most animal-to-human transmissions come from contact with various species of rodents.

The monkeypox virus is similar to smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980 through comprehensive vaccination efforts. But poxviruses like monkeypox are still around and cause many of the same, albeit milder, symptoms.

People infected with monkeypox often experience fever, chills, body aches, and fatigue, before eventually developing a rash of lesions. These symptoms typically last anywhere between two and four weeks.

The CDC said the new patient is infected with a less severe strain of monkeypox seen in West Africa. One in 100 cases are deadly with this particular strain.

Monkeypox is rarely a concern outside of Africa. It caused a 2003 outbreak in the U.S. with 37 confirmed cases after a shipment of sick rodents from Ghana spread the virus to pet prairie dogs. The CDC found no human-to-human transmission during the outbreak.

There have been a handful of cases in Israel, Singapore, and the United Kingdom in recent years.

Should You Worry About Monkeypox?

Although monkeypox can be a severe viral illness, it is unlikely for the new case to cause another outbreak in the U.S., Robert Quigley, MD, senior vice president and global medical director of International SOS, tells Verywell.

“It’s a flu. You get a rash, it’s kind of ugly looking. It's usually on your hands and soles. You don’t feel well for a little while,” he says, adding that it is not as severe as Ebola, which has an average of 50% fatality rate.

For human-to-human transmission, monkeypox typically spreads through large respiratory droplets. Since the droplets cannot travel farther than a few feet, prolonged contact in close proximity is required for transmission, according to the CDC.

Quigley adds that the patient had traveled by plane, where passengers were required to wear face masks.

“You have to spend a fair amount of time, even without the masks, right in somebody’s face to actually get the infection via that route, which is the most common way that it spreads from human to human,” Quigley says. 

The CDC’s active contact-tracing and monitoring also mean that there’s little chance for the virus to spread uncontrollably.

“It is not a cause for great concern,” Felicia Nutter, DVM, PhD, assistant professor at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, tells Verywell. “The rapid identification of the cause of illness, appropriate treatment for the patient, and contact tracing that has been instituted are all indications that our public health system is working as it should.”

Nutter works with STOP Spillover, a group that addresses the risks of zoonotic spillover to prevent future outbreaks. The project is implementing strategies to protect natural habitats and educating people about sustainable lifestyle choices in order to end diseases like monkeypox, she says.

“The STOP Spillover project is working to better understand the complex, nuanced factors that are involved in spillover events,” she says. “From the behavior and ecology of the animals that host certain viruses, to the choices that people make about where and how to live, what to eat, and yes, even which animals to keep as pets.”

The more severe strain of monkeypox still poses great risks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the CDC is testing whether smallpox vaccines can prevent monkeypox outbreaks.

What This Means For You

Monkeypox is a rare viral illness that occurs mostly in Western and Central Africa. The recent case of monkeypox found in the United States is a less severe strain and is unlikely to cause an outbreak.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monkeypox Signs and Symptoms. Updated July, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021 Travel-Associated United States Monkeypox Case. Updated July 21, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2003 United States Outbreak of Monkeypox. Updated September 18, 2018.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Monkeypox. July 16, 2021.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monkeypox Transmission. Updated July, 2021.