Texas reports first case of monkeypox, but officials say it poses little risk to the public

A health care worker shows a bottle of the monkeypox vaccine at a clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal on June 6, 2022. Texas health officials said the first case of the disease in the state was reported Tuesday in Dallas County. (Reuters/Christinne Muschi, Reuters/Christinne Muschi)

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Texas health officials said Tuesday they have identified the first case of monkeypox in the state this year, but noted the illness does not currently present a risk to the general public.

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The case was identified in a Dallas County resident who recently traveled internationally, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The department is working with Dallas County Health and Human Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the case.

Health officials said they have also identified a “few” people who may have been exposed to the virus in Dallas. Those people are monitoring themselves for symptoms of infection, officials said.

In May, several cases of monkeypox were reported in countries that don’t regularly report the disease. This is not typical of past patterns of monkeypox, according to the World Health Organization. The organization is working with all affected countries, including the U.S., to investigate the outbreak and provide guidance on how to stop the spread and care for those infected.

The risk of this outbreak becoming widespread is low, according to WHO. Monkeypox is not typically considered to be very contagious because it requires close physical contact with someone who is infectious in order to spread.

With the Texas case reported Tuesday, about 35 cases have now been identified across 14 states and Washington, D.C., this year, according to the CDC. About 1,000 cases have been reported across 29 countries in 2022, with most cases in the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal, according to CDC data.

In response to the recent monkeypox outbreak, the CDC issued an “Alert - Level 2” travel advisory, asking travelers to “practice enhanced precautions.” That advisory is the midway point between the lowest level (“practice usual precautions”) and the highest level (“avoid nonessential travel”).

The CDC issued the following recommendations to travelers to avoid contracting the disease: Avoid close contact, including sexual contact, with sick people; wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; avoid contact with dead or alive animals; avoid eating or preparing meat from wild game; and avoid contact with contaminated materials used by sick people.

People should seek medical care immediately if they develop any new, unexplained skin rashes on any part of the body, the CDC says. If you are sick and could have monkeypox, delay travel by public transportation until you have been cleared by a health care professional or public health officials.

Monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease, meaning that it can spread from animals to humans and between humans, according to the World Health Organization. The disease is usually found in West and Central Africa, where the animals that may carry the virus typically live.

Symptoms usually include a fever, intense headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, swollen lymph nodes and a skin rash or lesions. The symptoms often resolve on their own without the need for treatment, according to WHO. Those infected should take care of the rash by letting it dry if possible, and they should avoid touching any sores in the mouth or eyes.

In most cases, monkeypox symptoms go away within a few weeks, but newborns, children and people with underlying immune deficiencies may be at risk of more serious symptoms and death from monkeypox, according to WHO.

The disease is commonly transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal, according to WHO. It can also be transmitted from person to person by inhaling large respiratory droplets or through close contact with body fluids and lesions or bedding and other contaminated materials.

One common way monkeypox can spread is through sexual contact. Monkeypox rashes can resemble some sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes and syphilis, which may explain why several of the cases in the current outbreak have been identified in men seeking care in sexual health clinics, according to WHO.

The risk of becoming infected with monkeypox is not limited to those who are sexually active or, specifically, men who have sex with men, according to WHO. Many of the reported cases have been identified in men who have sex with men, but this is likely caused because of proactive health practices in that demographic, WHO reported.

Several vaccines for the prevention of smallpox may provide some protection against monkeypox. A vaccine that was developed for smallpox and approved in 2019 for preventing monkeypox is not yet widely available, according to WHO. However, people who have been vaccinated against smallpox in the past will have some protection against monkeypox.

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