Federal health officials on Friday advised clinicians to watch out for a telltale rash that could be a symptom of monkeypox, a rare viral infection found in the U.S. earlier this week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory Friday, saying it is working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to investigate a confirmed case of monkeypox in the state.
Senior health officials told reporters the case “is highly unusual” because it doesn’t appear to have any direct link to any of the countries in Western Central Africa where monkeypox is commonly found.
Officials, speaking anonymously, said the Massachusetts case bears similarities to some of the other monkeypox cases being reported across the globe right now, which also lack evidence of travel.
“This is the only confirmed case being recorded in the United States to date, but it is likely that there could be some additional cases detected in the coming days as surveillance and testing began to work more actively to look for cases,” a senior administration health official said.
New York City health officials are also investigating a possible case of monkeypox.
Last year, the United States had two cases of monkeypox imported by travelers who had recently visited Nigeria. What’s different about this week’s case and the clusters being recorded in Canada, Europe and elsewhere is that they don’t have any links to travel.
“This is the first time we’ve seen that phenomenon on such a wide scale, and that’s why we have some scientific concern about it,” the official said.
Still, the official emphasized, “there appears to be a low risk to the general public at this time.”
The official said it is suspected the virus is being spread person-to-person by “close, intimate skin on skin contact with somebody who has had an active rash.”
Unlike COVID-19, which is airborne, monkeypox is “not something you can get passing somebody on the street,” the official said. Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required.
But it can be spread through shared items like bedding, clothing and toothbrushes.
Most of the cases detected so far are among men who have sex with men, health officials said, but not all have been.
“What we’re seeing here is not so much a disease that’s related to sex, as a community of men who have — may have been having a lot of close contact,” another official said.
“It’s important to think of it that way because we have examples in the past where we’ve seen diseases that first appeared among [men who have sex with men], but were spreading in the general community, and we want to remain vigilant for the fact that there could well be other communities affected by this,” the official said.
Officials said the U.S. has plenty of doses of the antiviral medication Tpoxx, which treats the disease, in the strategic national stockpile.
The World Health Organization said Friday there are approximately 130 confirmed or suspected monkeypox cases in nations where the disease is not endemic.