Monkeypox likely spreading among people via intimate contact: US officials

New and suspected cases of monkeypox have been cropping up in Europe and North America recent days. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Monkeypox is likely being spread from person to person by close, intimate or sexual contact with someone who has an active rash, United States senior health officials said.

The one US case of the virus, usually contracted from infected animals, has no known link to Africa, where the disease is most commonly found, said the officials, who spoke without being identified as a condition of participating in the call.

While the risk to the general public is low, health workers are being alerted to monitor possible cases and use protective equipment when needed, they said.

Unlike the Covid-19 virus, which is spread through the air and respiratory droplets, spreading monkeypox requires much closer contact. Sharing bedding, clothing or a toothbrush with an infected person would create greater risk, the officials said on the call.

New and suspected cases of monkeypox have been cropping up in Europe and North America in recent days. The rare and potentially deadly cousin of the smallpox virus is traditionally confined to regions in Africa, but health officials are concerned about its wide spread.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it has confirmed 37 cases and is investigating 71 worldwide. Most of those detected so far are among men who have sex with men, health officials have said.

An advisory group to the WHO on infections with pandemic and endemic potential met on Friday (May 20) to discuss monkeypox, which has been a priority pathogen for the agency for years, according to a spokesman.

With the summer months approaching, more events and social situations may give opportunities for the virus to spread, the US senior health officials said on the call.

They also said there are ample supplies of an antiviral medication that fights monkeypox, SIGA Technologies' Tpoxx, in the national stockpile.

In Massachusetts, where the one US case has been confirmed, state health officials are interviewing the patient to find out who he may have had contact with. Contact tracing will be a vital part of the response to the monkeypox outbreak, the senior health officials said.

The US recorded two cases of monkeypox last year in travellers who had recently visited Nigeria. However, in the most current crop of worldwide cases, there is no known link to an African country. The scale of unusual infections has created scientific concern, an official said on the call.

Monkeypox is significantly less dangerous than smallpox. Symptoms typically include fever, chills, and rashes or lesions on the face or genitals. The strain currently circulating is believed to kill about 1 per cent of those infected, though no one has died in this current outbreak.

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