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State health officials confirm rare case of monkeypox in Massachusetts

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions (left) and spherical immature virions (right) obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak.Associated Press

A man who traveled to Canada has been diagnosed with the monkeypox virus, the nation’s first confirmed case of the rare disease, and is being treated in isolation at Massachusetts General Hospital.

State public health officials and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the case on Wednesday, and hospital officials said they are trying to track down anyone who may have come in contact with the patient.

The man was admitted to the hospital on May 12 and “during the course of their admission, they were identified as a possible monkeypox suspect,” Dr. Erica Shenoy, director of the Infection Control Unit at MGH, said at an evening news conference outside the hospital. Officials did not identify the man or say when he traveled to Canada or to what areas of the country. The CDC said he used “private transportation” for the trip.


Monkeypox, a rare but potentially serious disease, is typically found in Africa. Symptoms appear “flu like” but also include “swelling of the lymph nodes” and “a rash on the face and body,” state public health officials said in a statement.

The state health department said the MGH case “poses no risk to the public” but people should be aware of the symptoms of monkeypox.

Although just a single monkeypox case has been confirmed in the United States, officials said they are also monitoring larger clusters of the virus reported in Europe.

Nine cases were identified in the United Kingdom this month, the first of which was detected in a man who had traveled to Nigeria, state public health officials said.

The other eight cases were confirmed in people who had not reported any recent travel. Other monkeypox cases have been confirmed in Portugal and Spain, the CDC said in a statement.

One MGH physician said the Massachusetts case is possibly an example of the rare virus spreading beyond its usual geographic borders.


“I think what we’re seeing is that this is an evolving case where we’re seeing monkeypox in patients outside of West Africa who have not had a travel history, and it was really an incredibly astute clinical team [here] who thought of this diagnosis as they saw the constellation of the lesions, a rash, fitting,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, chief preparedness and continuity officer at Mass General Brigham.

“Although it starts with more vague symptoms of fever and myalgias muscle aches, the fact that [he] has the diagnostic rash [and] lymphadenopathy ... that’s really important,” he said.

Most infections can last between two and four weeks, the statement said.

Biddinger said Massachusetts residents should be aware of the symptoms but not alarmed.

“This is still a rare disease and it’s an evolving situation but they should not be afraid of this case being in Massachusetts,” he said.

The case was initially tested late Tuesday at the State Public Health Laboratory in Jamaica Plain and was confirmed Wednesday by the CDC, the health department’s statement said.

Officials said the virus is common in parts of central and west Africa where people have been exposed through “bites or scratches from rodents and small mammals, preparing wild game, or having contact with an infected animal or possibly animal products.” Last year, Texas and Maryland each reported a case of monkeypox. According to the CDC, monkeypox reemerged in Nigeria in 2017 after no cases were reported for more than 40 years. Since then, more than 450 cases have been reported in Nigeria, the CDC said.


State health officials said the virus does not easily spread among people but can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, monkeypox sores, respiratory droplets through face-to-face contact, or contaminated items, such as bed sheets or clothing. Common household disinfectants can kill the monkeypox virus, the CDC said in a statement.

Shenoy told reporters at MGH that individuals with the virus become infectious only after showing symptoms, “at least from what we understand.”

“They continue to be infectious for the entire time those lesions are there until such time as every one of them has scabbed over,” Shenoy said. “At that point, they’re considered non-infectious. And there may be additional tests that the Department of Public Health asks us to do at some later date related to that.”

Health officials are recommending clinicians consider a monkeypox diagnosis in people “who present with an otherwise unexplained rash” or who have traveled in the last 30 days to a country with either a confirmed or suspected case of the virus, or who may have had contact with someone who has it, the statement said.

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.