With more than 18,000 cases worldwide, the monkeypox outbreak is now a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization declared this week. And the U.S. has recorded more monkeypox cases since the beginning of the year than any other country, according to the most recent statistics.
Monkeypox, a viral infection that typically causes painful rashes, is endemic and expected in some countries, particularly those in Central and West Africa. But beginning in May, public health officials noticed cases emerging in Europe, primarily the U.K., Spain and Portugal. And, on May 18, the U.S. recorded its first case of monkeypox in the current outbreak. Just a few months later, the U.S. has now racked up more cases than any other country.
Since January 1, 2022, the U.S. has recorded 3,487 monkeypox cases, as shown in at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, European CDC and Ministries of Health. Countries in Europe, where the current outbreak is believed to have started, are also seeing a large number of cases. For instance, Spain has counted 3,125 since the beginning of the year, Germany had 2,352 cases and the U.K. recorded 2,208.
While anyone can get monkeypox, the current outbreak is spreading mainly among men who have sex with men, experts say. In some areas, like in New York City (where there are nearly 1,100 recorded monkeypox cases), vaccines are available to those who may have been exposed to the virus, especially people in the LGBTQ community who meet certain eligibility criteria.
Monkeypox generally starts with flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches, fatigue and fever. From there, people with monkeypox typically develop a skin rash with painful lesions that eventually scab over. And, for some, the early symptoms can be so mild that they’re mistaken for jet lag before the lesions appear.
But experts have noted that some cases in the current outbreak don't necessarily follow that classic pattern, NBC News reported. Some people get the rash first or may experience the lesions as their only symptom. Rashes in this outbreak have also frequently appeared around the anus or genitals.
The challenge continues to be stemming the spread of the outbreak, including in countries where access to smallpox and monkeypox vaccines may be limited, the WHO said.