Contagious monkeypox virus found in traveller returning to the United States

A case of a rare, viral disease was found in a traveller returning to the United States from Nigeria. Scientists confirmed late Tuesday that the person was infected with the monkeypox virus.

Electron microscopic image of monkeypox virion
Monkeypox virion, 2003. Image: CDC/Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regnery

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement on Wednesday saying that they are working with the Maryland Department of Health and other international and local health partners to assess potential risks to those who may have come into contact with the passenger on the plane and after their arrival in the United States. 

The CDC is asking health care providers to be on alert for “poxvirus-like lesions,” particularly among patients who have recently returned from Nigeria, and to report suspected cases immediately to public health regardless of whether they are also exploring other potential diagnoses.

“Monkeypox is a rare but potentially serious viral illness that typically begins with flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes and progresses to a widespread rash on the face and body,” says the CDC. 

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The virus enters the body through broken skin, or the eyes, nose, or mouth, mostly by way of respiratory droplets from the infected person. 

It was confirmed that travellers on the flight to the United States were required to wear masks on the plane as well as in the U.S. airports due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The CDC believes that the risk of spread of the monkeypox virus via respiratory droplets to others on the planes is low. However, they are still suggesting that anyone who may have been in contact with the patient should monitor their health by taking their temperature twice a day and watching for signs/symptoms of the virus.

If someone has been infected with the monkeypox virus, they will develop symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), chills and exhaustion. These symptoms appear five days to three weeks after infection.

Within a few days after getting a fever, the patient develops a rash, often on the face first, then on other parts of the body. The rash turns into scabs that fall off in two to four weeks. 

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The CDC says that they are working with international health counterparts, the airline, and state and local health officials in the Washington, DC area to contact airline passengers and others who may have been in close contact with the patient.

There isn’t a specific treatment for monkeypox, but treatment used for smallpox can be used to control an outbreak, the agency says. The virus that causes monkeypox is like the smallpox virus.

The CDC states that the monkeypox infection confirmed in the patient on Nov. 16 matches the strain re-emerging in Nigeria since 2017 after more than 40 years with no reported cases. 

Since monkeypox resurfaced four years ago, 218 cases have been confirmed in Nigeria and eight cases have been reported in international travellers from Nigeria, including a case in Texas in July 2021 and the current case in Maryland.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird


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