CDC official expresses concern over UK monkeypox outbreak

A senior official for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday said she was concerned over the outbreak of monkeypox in the United Kingdom and the possibility that it might spread beyond the country.

Jennifer McQuiston, a veterinarian and epidemiologist with the CDC, told Stat that there appears to be undetected transmission of monkeypox in the U.K.

“We do have a level of concern that this is very different than what we typically think of from monkeypox. And I think we have some concern that there could be spread outside the U.K associated with this,” McQuiston told the news site.

British health authorities have confirmed seven “rare and unusual” cases of monkeypox detected in Londoners, most of whom had no history of travel to Africa. Four of the cases detected this week were found in men who have sex with men.

Health officials have emphasized that the risk to the general population still remains low. Officials are tracing those who may have had contact with the people who contracted monkeypox.

Most cases of monkeypox tend to occur in the western and central regions of Africa. The disease is similar to smallpox, but has milder symptoms. There are currently no drugs or vaccines specific to monkeypox, but smallpox vaccines have been used in previous outbreaks of the pathogen.

As Stat noted, there is currently no evidence to suggest that monkeypox is spreading to large groups of people in the U.K. However, the cases that have been detected occurred in two separate clusters that apparently have no connection to one another, suggesting there may be more than one chain of transmission.

“You have two clusters that have no link to travel or to other people who are known to be associated with a recognized outbreak. It suggests that there are unknown chains of transmission happening,” said McQuiston.

The CDC official added, “If there appears to be unknown chains of transmission, it just puts us on alert to be thinking: Could this be spreading outside the U.K.?”

McQuiston noted there is a high degree of travel between the U.S. and the U.K. She also noted that the cases were found among gay or bisexual men and said the U.S. should probably consider messaging for STI clinics on what to look out for.

“This is certainly a population that has been stigmatized for sexually transmitted infections like HIV in the past. And I think we have learned a bit from those experiences about how to approach this with the type of sensitivity it requires,” McQuiston said.

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