BOSTON — A Massachusetts man who recently traveled out of the country has tested positive for the rare monkeypox virus infection and is now being hospitalized in Boston, health officials confirmed on Wednesday as an outbreak emerges in Europe.
This is the first monkeypox infection identified in the U.S. this year, and it comes as the CDC tracks clusters that have been reported in several countries that don’t normally report monkeypox, including the U.K., Portugal, and Spain.
While monkeypox is a potentially serious viral illness, Massachusetts health officials told the public to not be alarmed — stressing that the local case poses no risk to the public.
“I think appropriately people should not be afraid of monkeypox right now,” Paul Biddinger, chief preparedness and continuity officer at Mass General Brigham, said during a press conference about the patient. “The current patient is of no public health risk right now, and people should just be aware of symptoms but not be afraid in any way.”
The European outbreak, however, has been “novel, and that gives us cause for concern,” he said.
The local patient had recently traveled to Canada by private transportation, according to the CDC. The man was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital on May 12, and is being isolated in the hospital’s Special Pathogens Program.
He’s “doing well” and is in stable condition, Biddinger said.
Monkeypox typically begins with flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes, and progresses to a rash on the face and body. Most infections last two to four weeks.
In parts of central and west Africa where monkeypox occurs, people can be exposed through bites or scratches from rodents and small mammals, preparing wild game, or having contact with an infected animal or possibly animal products.
“This was really unusual because the patient had no travel history (to west Africa where monkeypox is known to be endemic), no exposure to animals that would be known to be reservoirs,” said Erica Shenoy, medical director of the Region 1 Emerging Special Pathogens Treatment Center at MGH.
Health officials are now in the process of contact tracing with employees, patients and visitors, added Shenoy, who’s the associate chief of MGH’s Infection Control Unit.
The virus does not spread easily between people. Transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, items that have been contaminated with fluids or sores (clothing, bedding, etc.), or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact.
Texas and Maryland each reported a case last year in people who traveled to Nigeria. So far this month, the U.K. has identified nine cases of monkeypox; the first case had recently traveled to Nigeria.
None of the other cases has reported recent travel. U.K. health officials report that the most recent cases there are in men who have sex with men.
“Many of these global reports of monkeypox cases are occurring within sexual networks,” Inger Damon, director of CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said in a statement. “However, health care providers should be alert to any rash that has features typical of monkeypox. We’re asking the public to contact their health care provider if they have a new rash and are concerned about monkeypox.”
Clinicians should consider a diagnosis of monkeypox in people who present with an otherwise unexplained rash and who traveled, in the last 30 days, to a country that has recently had confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox; report contact with a person or people with confirmed or suspected monkeypox; or is a man who reports sexual contact with other men.
“We urge health care providers, particularly those in outpatient settings, to remain vigilant to potential cases and to take any necessary precautions,” said Sarimer Sanchez, medical director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Infectious Diseases Bureau.
Precautions for health care workers include wearing gowns, gloves and face masks.
Sanchez added, “A key thing that we’ve learned is to be humble and also to remain vigilant.”
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