CDC, Mass. Health Officials Monitoring Contacts of Boston Monkeypox Patient

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to determine the risk level of people who have been in contact with the Boston man who was diagnosed last week with monkeypox

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Federal health officials are monitoring people who have been in contact with the Boston resident who was diagnosed with monkeypox last week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has been conducting contact tracing.

State health officials have told the CDC that they are investigating more than 200 contacts, but noted that most of those people are health care workers. It is also important to note that the risk level for these contacts is still being determined.

“People should not be panicking,” said Holy Cross virologist Ann Sheehy. “People should be still far more concerned with Coronaviruses and SARS-CoV- 2 in particular than they should be about monkeypox.

She says monkeypox is very different from most viruses we’re typically concerned with.

“Doesn’t typically mutate as quickly, this one’s particularly hard to transmit comparatively,” said Professor Sheehy. “So in general, no, people should not be worried. If you’re a close contact than you want to be vigilant.”

Monkeypox is a rare but potentially serious viral illness that typically begins with flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, and eventually a rash on the face and body, according to public health experts. Those symptoms typically last about two to four weeks.

The first confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S. this year is in a Boston resident who’s being treated and monitored at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The Boston man with the virus had recently traveled from Canada, officials said last week, adding that there was no risk to the public. The patient is in good condition.

After the Massachusetts case was confirmed, one suspected case was identified in New York City, another in Florida, and two more in Utah, NBC News reported.

Recent cases have been diagnosed in the U.K., Spain and Portugal.

The monkeypox virus is related to the one that causes smallpox, but health officials noted that transmission between people is difficult -- it travels through bodily fluids, sores, items contaminated with fluids or sores or prolonged face-to-face contact.

The cases in the U.K. were all in men who have sex with men, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Signs of a monkeypox infection include flu-like symptoms and lymph node swelling, then a rash that can begin on one part of the body and then spread, health officials say. The infection can last two to four weeks and may be confused with sexually transmitted disease like herpes or with chickenpox.

"The rash can proceed over a series of days, or even weeks, where they develop either flat or pustules," Dr. Erica Shenoy, medical director for the Region 1 Emerging Special Pathogens Treatment Center, said last week. "In there is where the virus is, so that's where the direct contact with fluid is really one of the major risk factors for transmission."

Monkeypox is a rare virus first discovered in 1958.

Shenoy said at the time the Massachusetts patient was "doing quite well," and that the strain of the virus has been identified as one out of West Africa, which is known to be less severe.

"At this point there’s a spectrum of illness, we are reassured that this is West African clade," Shenoy told reporters Wednesday.

The CDC said Monday health officials are still trying to figure out how the Monkeypox virus has been suddenly spreading–primarily in Europe– and how to bring it under control.

Typically, monkeypox can be linked to travel to parts of Africa.

“What’s different about what we we’ve been seeing around the world in the past two weeks is that most cases do not have recent travel to Nigeria or to another country where monkeypox would normally be found,” said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston of the CDC.

The CDC is trying to connect the dots to determine how the unusual outbreak started.

The leading theory is it may have spread at a couple of raves in Europe.

“We’re concerned enough with the pace at which new cases are developing worldwide that we want to raise everyone’s attention and be very vigilant so we can try and control this as quickly as possible,” said the CDC’s Dr. John Brooks.

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