At least 25 cases of monkeypox in the United States have been identified by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the end of the week as part of a global outbreak of concern among health experts around the world.
No cases have been reported in Alaska yet, although that is likely to change. Cases have been identified in 12 states, including Washington and Hawaii. We spoke with Alaska’s chief epidemiologist, Dr. Joe McLaughlin, to learn more about the disease and what government officials are doing to prepare for its possible arrival in Alaska.
What exactly is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the measles virus, which belongs to the same family of viruses that cause smallpox, as well as the recently identified Alaska measles, which was found in the Fairbanks area.
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of measles-like disease appeared in colonies of monkeys that had been kept for testing, from which the disease got its name. The first case of people was registered in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, reported cases have involved people in dozens of other countries, mostly in Central West Africa.
Most of the infections that have been identified worldwide are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Cases of monkeypox in humans outside Africa are usually related to international travel or imported animals. In the United States, the CDC tracked 25 cases as of Saturday. Detailed information on 17 of these cases was included in a report from May 2022, published on Friday.
All but one of these 17 cases in the United States occurred among men who had sex with men. Fourteen traveled to other countries in the three weeks before their symptoms began, and three patients were immunocompromised, according to the CDC.
Have cases of monkeypox been identified in Alaska?
Not yet. The state has investigated two cases that were “clinically compatible” with the monkey rash, but the results of those tests have returned negative, McLaughlin said. However, “based on what we see at the national level, it is quite possible that in the near future we will see cases of monkeypox in Alaska,” he said.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox? Is it as serious as smallpox? And how does it spread?
The disease usually begins with fever, headache, muscle and low back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills and “just general exhaustion,” McLaughlin explained.
Within about one to three days, the patient will develop a rash that often begins on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, but not always.
“What we’ve seen in the current epidemic is that a lot of people have lesions that actually start in the genital areas because of sexual transmission,” he said.
The rash usually begins as a red, flat area that can turn into razor-like bumps, followed by cloudy-looking pustules. The disease usually lasts about two to four weeks.
Some people develop a severe infection and without any treatment or medical intervention, the mortality rate is up to 10% in monkeypox, compared to smallpox, which is closer to 30%, McLaughlin said.
A key difference is that smallpox can cause swollen lymph nodes, while smallpox does not. Otherwise, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to the symptoms of smallpox, but are usually milder.
Monkeypox is spread when a person comes in contact with the virus, or through an infected person, animal or material infected with the virus.
It can be spread from animals to humans by biting or scratching an infected animal.
Among humans, the virus can be spread through direct contact with body fluids or wounds on an infected person; it can also be spread through respiratory secretions, “but it really is during prolonged face-to-face contact,” McLaughlin said.
It does not spread as easily through airborne particles as COVID-19, he said.
Monkeypox can also be spread during intimate sexual contact between people.
[2 strains of monkeypox in US suggest possible undetected spread]
What are health professionals doing to prepare for the possible arrival of smallpox in the state?
“We make sure that we really understand the epidemiology of this outbreak, not only in the United States but also worldwide, and we are also up to date with the treatment available to treat people who have confirmed monkeypox infection.” McLaughlin said Friday.
While the monkey vaccine and treatments are in short supply around the world, McLaughlin said the state is working with federal partners to monitor national stocks and “if we have cases, we should be able to get treatment and vaccines very quickly,” he said. .
The state health department also communicates with health care providers and the general public about the routes of transmission, what signs and symptoms to look for, and how to test and treat infected people.
“We also consult clinicians for patients who have suspected cases – for example, they have a rash and a disease and the clinician thinks it may be monkeypox. So, we will consult with these clinicians and help them determine based on the person’s medical history and other risk factors whether or not it is appropriate to continue and test, “he said.