Health officials said more than 200 people in 27 US states are being tested for possible rare infections of monkeypox.
They fear that people may have been in contact with a Texas man who brought the disease from Nigeria to the United States in early July. So far, no new cases have been found.
The man, the first case of monkeypox in the country since 2003, was taken to hospital, but his condition is stable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it was concerned about passengers on two flights the infected man was on. The agency said passengers and crew members may have been exposed to the disease.
He traveled from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta, USA, on July 9, before boarding to Dallas, where he was hospitalized, according to the CDC.
The agency said it was working with airlines to assess “the potential risks to those who may have been in close contact with the traveler.”
But he added that the chances of the disease spreading on board are low because passengers are currently required to wear full face masks.
A CDC spokesperson told the BBC it was “working with state and local health departments to follow up on individuals who may have been exposed to monkeypox”.
“The risk to the general public is considered low,” the spokesman said, adding that no one out of the 200 people he observed was considered a “high risk”.
Monkeypox is a rare viral disease in the same family as smallpox, but it is much less serious. It occurs mainly in remote parts of countries in Central and West Africa, near tropical forests.
- Initially, fever, headache, swelling, back pain, muscle aches and general apathy.
- Once the fever subsides, a rash may appear that usually begins on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, most often the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
- The rash, which can be very itchy, changes and goes through various stages before eventually forming a crust that then falls off. Lesions can leave scars.
Most cases of the virus are mild, sometimes similar to chickenpox, and go away on their own within a few weeks.
However, monkeypox can sometimes be more serious: One in every hundred cases can be fatal, according to the CDC.
The CDC says there is no proven, safe treatment for this disease. But the agency notes that the smallpox vaccine has already been used to control previous outbreaks, such as the one in the United States in 2003.
Although rare, the disease has been detected in the United States before. In 2003, an outbreak infected 47 people in the country, none of whom died. According to the CDC, this was the first time that monkeypox had been confirmed in humans outside of Africa.
At the time, the virus was transmitted by rodents imported from Africa, which transmitted the disease to prairie dogs (a type of rodent native to North America) used as pets.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been only five other human case records outside of Africa. In 2018, three people were infected in the UK and one in Israel. In 2019, there was a case in Singapore.
This year, in addition to the case identified in Texas, three more cases have been recorded in the UK. The CDC notes that these cases are unrelated to the patient in Texas.
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