A concerning outbreak of monkeypox is spreading globally; health officials warn of other diseases

A presumptive positive case of monkeypox was identified in Broward County on Sunday

By: - May 24, 2022 7:00 am

Monkeypox, which is endemic to African countries, has been identified in the United States and across the globe. Credit: CDC

Update: The Florida Department of Health in Broward County announced Monday late afternoon a second presumptive positive case of monkeypox in Broward, according to a press release. County health officials said the person has been isolated and “the risk of exposure remains low.”

A rare disease prevalent in central and west African countries that can cause skin lesions and other symptoms has been detected in a patient in the United States, with federal health officials expecting more cases, including in Florida.

It’s called monkeypox.

On May 18, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first U.S. case of monkeypox in a Massachusetts resident who had suffered from the characteristic skin lesions after traveling from Canada. The CDC noted in a health advisory that “clusters of monkeypox cases have been reported in several countries that don’t normally have monkeypox.”

The CDC is waiting on lab results to confirm what officials expect is one case in Florida, one in New York City and two in Utah, CDC officials told reporters Monday in a press call.

In the Florida case, a presumptive positive case of monkeypox was identified in South Florida’s Broward County on Sunday, according to the Florida Department of Health. That case was connected to international travel, Broward health officials said, and the infected patient has been isolated.

“Monkeypox is difficult to transmit,” Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the state’s health department, said in an email to the Florida Phoenix. “It requires close, prolonged contact with a symptomatic individual. The risk to the general public remains low.”

At the federal level, “We are in the early days of this response,” Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology at the CDC, said in a press briefing Monday.

“It’s likely that there are going to be additional cases reported in the United States,” she said. “It is an illness that is characterized by a rash, with skin lesions that can be concentrated on certain body parts, or it can be spread more widely across the body. Most people who are infected with monkeypox recover within 2-4 weeks without specific treatment.”

Confirmation of the presumptive case in Florida is expected to take a couple of days, McQuiston of the CDC said, adding that the lab tests for monkeypox are done quickly. “They are PCR tests which can take a couple hours to run,” she said. “We’ve been seeing turnaround of a couple of days.”

During Monday’s press briefing, another CDC official pointed to recent global outbreaks disproportionately impacting the LGBTQ+ community.

“Many of those infected in the current global outbreak identify as gay and bisexual men,” said John Brooks, medical epidemiologist at CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. He added that “anyone can develop and spread monkeypox.”

“Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be transmitted during sexual and intimate contact as well as personal contact and shared bedding and clothing,” he said.

McQuiston said the disease “typically occurs in a handful of countries in west and central Africa” and during the past five years there has been a resurgence of monkeypox in Nigeria.

“What’s different about what we have been seeing around the world in the past two weeks is that most cases do not have recent travel to Nigeria or to another country where monkeypox would normally be found,” McQuiston said.

She said someone is likely to get infected through close contact with someone who has a rash or “through respiratory droplets in someone who has lesions in their mouth.”

The CDC is reaching out to health care providers to explain how to diagnose a case of monkeypox.

Two vaccines are approved to treat smallpox that could be used to treat monkeypox, ACAM2000 and Jynneos; there are also two antivirals approved to treat smallpox that could be used to help people diagnosed with monkeypox — Tecovirimat, or TPOXX, and Brincidofovir.

Reports about monkeypox cases come at a time when COVID-19 cases have been increasing across the nation, while health officials are warning of other diseases such as Salmonella infections linked to peanut butter and cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin found in children.

Hepatitis cases of unknown origin among children

In late April, the CDC issued a health alert “about a cluster of children identified with hepatitis and adenovirus infection.” The agency noted a variety of symptoms including fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools and more.

“Currently, we have no confirmed hepatitis cases of unknown origin in the state of Florida,” Redfern of the state health department said. “The Bureau of Epidemiology continues to monitor and will investigate any suspected cases that are reported to the department of health.”

COVID cases climbing

In Florida, new COVID cases have been trending upward and doubling caseloads. For instance, the CDC reported a 7-day average of 8,477 COVID cases in Florida on May 22. Just a month earlier, April 22, the 7-day average was 3,083 cases. On March 22, the 7-day average was just 1,229.

But there are likely more cases that haven’t been reported, according to Dr. Michael Teng, associate professor of medicine at the University of South Florida.

“I do think it is a cause for concern especially because we are not having reportable testing as much,” Teng said. “A lot of us now have these home rapid antigen tests. Some cases are just not getting reported anymore. We probably have had more cases recently than our numbers show.”

Teng continued: “People are getting sick, for the most part, they are not getting as sick. As we saw with the omicron wave last winter, we do have a lot of cases. You’re still going to have a lot of hospitalizations.”

Salmonella infections linked to peanut butter

The CDC issued a food safety alert recently about 14 people infected with a strain of Salmonella in 12 states, connected to “Jif brand peanut butter types, including creamy, crunchy, natural, and reduced fat.” Those products were recalled at stores across the nation. Florida hasn’t seen any cases yet, according to the CDC. But both Georgia and Texas have identified two cases.

Jennifer Shutt, of the States Newsroom’s Washington, D.C. bureau, contributed to this report.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.