In this 1971 handout photo from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monkeypox-like lesions are shown on the arm and leg of a female child in Bondua, Liberia. (Photo courtesy of the CDC/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Monkeypox cases are slowly increasing throughout the United States, though public health officials said Thursday they have the tools needed to diagnose, treat and contain the virus that’s mostly spread by skin-to-skin contact.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing that there are now nine diagnosed cases in seven states, a slight increase from earlier in the week. Not all of the cases are travel related, leading officials to presume that community spread is now taking place.
As of Wednesday, the CDC had confirmed monkeypox cases in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, Virginia and Washington state.
The cases so far, Walensky said, have presented in gay and bisexual men within the United States, but she cautioned that disease transmission is “not contained within social networks, and the risk of exposure is not limited to any one particular group.”
“While some groups may have a greater chance of exposure right now, infectious diseases do not care about state or international borders,” she said.
The Virginia case, however, was diagnosed in a woman, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The CDC later clarified to Virginia Mercury that officials misspoke during their briefing and that the Virginia patient is in fact female.
CDC officials said earlier this week that they’d confirmed one case in a Massachusetts man and were waiting on lab results to confirm what officials expected was one case in Florida, one in New York City and two in Utah.
More cases likely
White House Pandemic Office coordinator Raj Panjabi said during the Thursday briefing that officials are explaining the signs and symptoms of monkeypox to doctors and hoping that everyday citizens will begin to learn about the virus as well.
“All to say, we shouldn’t be surprised to see more cases reported in the U.S. in the upcoming days. It’s actually a sign that Americans are remaining vigilant and health care providers and public health workers are doing their job,” he said.
Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said the federal government is currently doing the test that specifically diagnoses monkeypox, though she said officials are exploring ways to ship the monkeypox-specific testing out to the local laboratories.
McQuiston later emphasized that the orthopox tests that local laboratories are using to diagnose patients are “sufficient for managing patient care and contact tracing and all of those things.”
“So the monkeypox test is an additional speciation level, but it’s not necessary for patient care,” McQuiston continued.
Those local laboratories throughout the country have the capacity to perform nearly 7,000 tests weekly for orthopoxvirus, the genus of viruses that includes monkeypox, according to Walensky.
Monkeypox has an incubation period of one to two weeks, though it can take up to 21 days for symptoms to develop in people who have contracted the virus.
People with monkeypox typically begin to notice a fever, a rash and lesions with other symptoms similar to the flu.
McQuiston said Thursday “that monkeypox is really a skin-to-skin contact transmitted event.”
“If you have an active lesion on a part of the body, and that comes in contact with someone else’s body, that’s how monkeypox is spread and transmitted,” she said.
While monkeypox can sometimes spread through sexual contact, McQuiston said she didn’t want to “give a false sense of assurance that a condom alone would be enough to prevent monkeypox virus transmission, because the rashes that some of the people are presenting with ended up being fairly widespread.”
Public health officials, McQuiston said, don’t expect that people can transmit monkeypox while they are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, though she said officials believe those are valid research questions they “would like to explore more as this outbreak unfolds, so that we have the best answers possible.”
There are two vaccines approved to treat smallpox that could be used as preventive treatments for monkeypox, ACAM2000 and Jynneos. There are also two antiviral drugs approved for smallpox that could possibly be used in monkeypox patients.
Walensky said the “CDC has mechanisms in place to move these products around the country so that they can be used for prevention or treatment for people who may benefit, wherever they may be.”
The CDC, she said, is “already mobilizing vaccines to states with reported cases” of monkeypox.
Walensky also sought to differentiate monkeypox from COVID-19, saying it’s “not a new or an unknown disease.”
“CDC has been preparing for monkeypox for decades,” she said. “We have the resources we need right now to respond and we know how to respond.”
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