On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised its monkeypox alert to a Level 2, or “practice enhanced precautions.” The guidance includes wearing face masks while traveling as well as avoid close contact with sick animals and people, especially those with skin lesions.
The highest level alert — Level 3 — would caution against non-essential travel.
While emphasizing that the risk was not on the same level as for Covid-19, the agency is tracking cases that have been reported in several countries that don’t normally report monkeypox, including the United States. Many of these people have not recently been in central or west African countries where monkeypox usually occurs.
The largest outbreaks outside of Africa are currently in Europe. The United Kingdom currently has 302 reported cases, Spain has 198 and Portugal has 153.
Of the 30 cases reported in the US, seven cases are in New York, six in California and four in Florida. Most confirmed cases of monkeypox in the US have reported international travel and identified themselves either as men who have sex with men, the CDC said in a report released last week.
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with monkeypox virus. It typically presents initially as flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, muscle aches) before patients develop a painful rash, lesions and swollen lymph nodes. The incubation period between exposure and when symptoms first appears is usually seven to 14 days but can be anywhere from five to 21 days, according to the CDC.
The monkeypox virus can be spread to others by an infected person until all the scabs fall off and a fresh layer of skin appears, which can take up to a month, per the CDC. The disease can be fatal in as many as 11% of people who become infected.
The CDC says travelers can protect themselves against infection by taking the following steps:
- Avoid close contact (including sexual contact) with people who are sick or have a rash and contaminated items. Don’t kiss, hug, or touch. Do not share eating utensils or cups. Do not touch the bedding or clothing of a sick person.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
- Avoid animals when traveling. Don’t touch live or dead wild animals. Do not touch or eat products that come from wild animals. Avoid touching materials, such as bedding, that have been used by animals.
Health experts have not decided the source of the outbreak, which has been linked to travel from endemic countries. Last week, the World Health Organization’s monkeypox lead said that the virus could have been transmitting undetected within non-endemic countries for “weeks, months or possibly a couple of years.”