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What is monkeypox? Is monkeypox deadly? Your top questions on Google answered

Health officials announced a presumptive case of monkeypox in King County Monday, less than a week after the United States' first reported case of the year.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Health officials announced Monday a presumptive case of the monkeypox virus in King County, less than a week after the United States' first case of the year was confirmed in Massachusetts.

The case, which was reported to Public Health - Seattle & King County Sunday, is an adult man who recently traveled internationally to a country that reported monkeypox cases recently.

Initial testing confirmed a monkeypox infection Monday. Further testing will be done at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Health officials said the man is not hospitalized and is recovering at home. He does not pose a risk to others at this time, according to King County health officials.

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“The public and health care providers should be aware of the growing international monkeypox outbreak,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “At this time, we have no evidence that monkeypox is spreading locally, but if there are unrecognized cases, that is a possibility.”

Searches related to monkeypox have spiked on Google since the country's first case and as other countries report more instances.

Here are the answers to the top questions people have been Googling about monkeypox in the U.S., which health officials stressed has a low risk to the general population.

What is monkeypox? 

Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people. Most human cases have been in central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic.

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 first known human infection was in 1970, in a 9-year-old boy in a remote part of Congo.

Monkeypox belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but causes milder symptoms.

Monkeypox vs. smallpox

According to the CDC, monkeypox belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but causes milder symptoms.

Smallpox was one of the deadliest diseases in human history, estimated to kill over 300 million people after 1900 alone.

Smallpox is now known as the only human disease to have been eradicated by vaccination, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

How is monkeypox transmitted?

According to the CDC, monkeypox is transmitted when a person comes into contact with the virus from an animal, human or materials contaminated with the virus.

The virus can enter the body through broken skin, even if not visible, through the respiratory tract or the eyes, nose or mouth, according to the CDC.

Transmission of the monkeypox virus from animals to humans can happen by bite or scratch, bush meat preparation, direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, or indirect contact with lesion material such as through contaminated bedding.

Meanwhile, humans can transmit monkeypox through large respiratory droplets, which generally cannot travel more than a few feet. That means prolonged face-to-face contact is required for a person to transmit the virus to another person, according to the CDC.

Is monkeypox contagious?

Yes, but transmitting the virus requires a long period of time to infect another person.

The virus' incubation period is from about five days to three weeks. Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized.

People exposed to the virus are often given one of several smallpox vaccines, which have been shown to be effective against monkeypox. Anti-viral drugs are also being developed.

The WHO said people younger than 40 or 50 years of age, depending on the country, might be more susceptible to catching monkeypox because that demographic would not have received the smallpox vaccine.

Is monkeypox deadly?

Most patients with monkeypox experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.

The incubation period is from about five days to three weeks. Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized.

Monkeypox can be fatal for up to one in 10 people and is thought to be more severe in children.

Is there a vaccine for monkeypox?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine in 2019 that would prevent monkeypox and smallpox. The Jynneos vaccine is administered in two doses and is recommended for individuals 18 and older 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. Before the monkeypox vaccine, the smallpox vaccine provided protection against monkeypox, the WHO said.

The most common side effects of the vaccine were pain, redness, swelling, itching, firmness at the injection site, muscle pain, headache and fatigue.

How many monkeypox cases are there typically? 

The WHO 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.

Patchy health monitoring systems mean many infected people are likely missed, experts say.

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.

In 2003, 47 people in six U.S. states had confirmed or probable cases. They caught the virus from pet prairie dogs that been housed near imported small mammals from Ghana.

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