What to know about monkeypox with a case over CT border in Massachusetts

Photo of Nicholas Rondinone

Monkeypox, a rare form of the dangerous smallpox virus, has appeared in Massachusetts, raising some concern over the spread of the often unseen illness.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently confirmed a single case of the virus involving an individual who had recently traveled to Canada. Little else was shared about the patient, including what part of the state the patient lives.

The World Health Organization puts the estimate of cases in the United States at between 1 and 5, however, there have been no other confirmed cases. Globally, there are 92 cases in countries that do not typically see outbreaks of the virus, WHO said.

It was the first confirmed case of monkeypox, a potentially deadly virus, in the United States in 2022. A possible case has been reported in New York, but it has not been confirmed.

Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox:

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the same family as smallpox and cowpox, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was first discovered in Africa in 1958 when there was an outbreak among monkeys held for research, the CDC said.

WHO said the first human case of monkeypox was found in a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970. The first case was reported in the United States in 2003.

How can someone catch monkeypox?

While not entirely known, it is believed that the virus is carried through monkeys and rodents, according to the CDC. It can also be passed between humans through contact with bodily fluids, the CDC said. Cases found in the United States are often linked to international travel.

Experts have said it is believed that sexual contact at two raves in Europe may have spread the virus, according to the Associated Press.

“We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission,” Dr. David Heymann, who formerly headed WHO’s emergencies department, told The Associated Press.

Has monkeypox ever been reported in Connecticut?

According to the state Department of Public Health, there has never been a confirmed case of monkeypox in Connecticut.

“DPH is monitoring this situation and forwarding CDC updates and communications to local health departments and infectious disease specialists. The state Public Health Laboratory is forwarding instructions on specimen collection storage and transport storage to hospital laboratories and infectious disease specialists,” DPH said in a statement Friday.

DPH said there is a two-part plan to investigate any outbreak in Connecticut: Ensure proper isolation protocols are in place and then confirm the case through testing at the state laboratory.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

According to officials, monkeypox presents similarly to smallpox, but often the symptoms are less severe. The initial symptoms include fever, head and muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion, according to the CDC.

Health officials said the virus takes between seven and 14 days to incubate, meaning it could be one to two weeks after an infection before symptoms start to show.

About one to three days after the fever starts, an infected individual will develop a rash, or lesions, that spread from the face to the rest of their body, the CDC said.

How is it treated?

There is no defined treatment for monkeypox that is approved in the United States, according to the CDC.

However, antiviral drugs and the smallpox vaccine are used to control outbreaks of the virus in the United States. Most people are immunized against smallpox in the United States.

How rare are cases of monkeypox?

There are several thousand cases a year reported in African countries, according to the WHO.

But outside those nations, outbreaks are rare, but have been seen in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries.

The largest outbreak in the United States impacted 47 people in 2003, according to the Associated Press.

Small outbreaks have recently been reported in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Where are the current outbreaks of monkeypox?

According to the WHO, a small number of cases have been reported in the United States and Canada. However, the bulk of the recent outbreaks have been in European nations.

WHO estimates there are between 21 and 30 cases separately in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Portugal. Cases have also been reported in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Sweden.