Sexual Link Investigated in Monkeypox Outbreak

Biden addresses growing number of cases globally, says 'everybody should be concerned'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2022 10:40 AM CDT
Biden: 'Everybody Should Be Concerned' on Monkeypox
This 1997 image provided by the CDC is from an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   (CDC via AP)

The rising number of monkeypox cases around the world has caught the attention of President Biden, who addressed it for the first time on Sunday. “They haven’t told me the level of exposure yet, but it is something that everybody should be concerned about,” Biden told reporters while on his Asia trip, per the AP. “We’re working on it hard to figure out what we do and what vaccine if any might be available for it,” Biden added. Coverage of the outbreak emphasizes two key points—the virus is much harder to catch than COVID, and vaccines already exist to keep it under control.

  • Cases: More than 90 cases have been confirmed globally, and the number is rising, per the Washington Post. In previous years, cases were typically confined to central and west Africa, but this year they have turned up in the US, Australia, Canada, Europe, Israel, and Switzerland.
  • In the US: So far, one case has been confirmed in Massachusetts, and a suspected case is awaiting CDC confirmation in New York.

  • Sexual link? Most of the cases to date have been among men who have had sex with other men, reports the New York Times. “Most cases presented with lesions on the genitalia or peri-genital area, indicating that transmission likely occurs during close physical contact during sexual activities,” the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said Friday.
  • More on that: "What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread, as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world," the WHO's David Heymann tells Reuters. Generally, the virus can be spread through contact with body fluids, patients' sores, respiratory droplets, and items of clothing that have been contaminated.

  • Vaccines: The Times describes monkeypox as a "more benign form of smallpox," and the Post notes that existing smallpox vaccines are broadly effective in treating it. The US has licensed two smallpox vaccines, one specifically for use against monkeypox. Symptoms include a rash and pus-filled lesions, and most patients recover after a few weeks without the need for hospitalization, per the AP. The virus can, however, be deadly.
  • Context: “There are vaccines available, but the most important message is: you can protect yourself,” says the WHO's Heymann. "At this point, the general risk to the public from monkeypox is considered 'very, very low,' Tom Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told the Post.
(More monkeypox stories.)

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