On May 18, a man in Massachusetts tested positive for monkeypox, becoming the first U.S. case this year.
Monkeypox is typically found in Africa, and rare cases in the U.S. and elsewhere are usually linked to travel there. A small number of confirmed or suspected cases have been reported this month in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.
Health officials around the world are keeping watch for more cases because, for the first time, most of the cases are among people who didn’t travel to Africa.
Social media users have posted a lot of questions about monkeypox, and some are wondering if this means we are on our way to another global pandemic. Searches related to monkeypox have also spiked on Google since the Massachusetts case was reported.
Here are four facts about monkeypox that we can VERIFY.
Here is what we can VERIFY:
1. Monkeypox was first identified in 1958 and originated in wild animals
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the illness was first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys — thus the name monkeypox.
The disease originates in wild animals like rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people, but human-to-human transmission is also possible.
The first known human infection was in 1970, in a 9-year-old boy in Africa – where the disease is now endemic.
The World Health Organization estimates there are thousands of monkeypox infections in about a dozen African countries every year. Most are in Congo, which reports about 6,000 cases annually, and Nigeria, with about 3,000 cases a year.
Isolated cases of monkeypox are occasionally spotted outside Africa, including in the U.S. and Britain. The cases are typically associated with travel to Africa or contact with animals from areas where the disease is more common.
The last monkeypox outbreak in the U.S. was in 2003 when 47 people had confirmed or probable cases. They caught the virus from pet prairie dogs that were housed near imported small mammals shipped from Ghana.
2. Monkeypox is spread through prolonged close contact
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says monkeypox is transmitted when a person comes into contact with the virus from an animal, human, or materials that are contaminated with the virus.
The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), the respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth).
Animal-to-human contact can occur if an infected animal bites or scratches a person. Human-to-human transmission primarily occurs through close physical contact with bodily fluids, respiratory droplets, skin lesions or recently contaminated objects, the CDC and WHO say.
“Transmission via droplet respiratory particles usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact, which puts health workers, household members and other close contacts of active cases at greater risk,” the WHO explains.
Saralyn Mark, M.D., former senior medical advisor to The White House under President Barack Obama, told VERIFY she is much more worried about COVID-19 and is not worried monkeypox will reach pandemic-level.
“The basic public health measures that we need to employ to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 will certainly be quite effective for monkeypox. Again, it's a disease where you really have to have direct contact with an individual. I am much more concerned about coronavirus at the moment,” Mark said.
3. Monkeypox symptoms usually last between two and four weeks, and the mortality rate is 3% to 6%
Most patients that become infected with monkeypox experience fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes, according to the WHO. The rash tends to stay concentrated on the face and extremities but can spread across the body in more severe cases.
Those symptoms usually last from two to four weeks, the WHO says. Severe cases occur more often in children, as well as people with underlying health issues.
People younger than 40 or 50 years of age (depending on the country) may be more susceptible to catching monkeypox, the WHO says, because that demographic would not have received the smallpox vaccine.
4. A monkeypox vaccine is available for high-risk people over the age of 18
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine that would prevent monkeypox and smallpox in 2019. The Jynneos vaccine is administered in two doses and is recommended for individuals 18 and older that are at high risk for monkeypox.
That includes the elderly, people with certain medical conditions and those who are or were recently pregnant.
The FDA said the vaccine does not contain the viruses that cause smallpox or monkeypox. Prior to the monkeypox vaccine, the smallpox vaccine provided protection against monkeypox, the WHO says.
The most commonly reported side effects of the vaccine were pain, redness, swelling, itching, firmness at the injection site, muscle pain, headache and fatigue.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.