Boston doctor on monkeypox: ‘We don’t expect these clusters to get bigger’

The virus is related to smallpox, and there have been a handful of cases in the United States.

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. Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP

Reports of a new viral infection may prompt fear after the challenges the world has faced through the COVID-19 pandemic, but a Boston infectious disease doctor is stressing the situation is not the same.

“Let me start by saying that any monkeypox is a very different virus than COVID-19,” Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, director of Boston University’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research, said on MSNBC Sunday

Monkeypox — which presents with symptoms including a fever, headache, and muscle aches and can progress to create a rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — is in the same family as smallpox, Bhadelia said. 


The good news is the virus is not as deadly as smallpox, she said. 

“The interesting thing here is that because monkeypox and smallpox were so closely related, for a very long time when we were vaccinating against smallpox, it was cross protection against monkeypox,” Bhadelia said. “The theory has been since we eradicated smallpox, and we’re not vaccinating, we created a generation of humans on the face of this earth who are not immune to monkeypox now.”

The World Health Organization released a report on Saturday saying there have been 92 laboratory confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases in areas that are not endemic for the virus.

“The concern here is that could this have been something that’s a change in the virus?” Bhadelia said. “Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case currently, it still remains a hard to transmit virus compared to other things like COVID.”

The first confirmed case of the virus in the United States was in a man in Massachusetts who had recently traveled to Canada. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has said the case poses no risk to the general public. A handful of other cases are starting to show up in the United States, including a potential case being reported in Florida and a confirmed case in New York


Bhadelia said the almost 100 cases could also stem from an unlucky introduction of a case from travel into a vulnerable population.

“Could it be that potentially there are a lot more cases and now that we’ve raised alarm for it, physicians are looking out for it a lot more,” Bhadelia said. “The kind of rash that this virus causes, for others who are looking at it, might look like chickenpox or herpes, so [it] could be missed.” 

Bhadelia called monkeypox a “matter of concern,” but she emphasized that with good epidemiology and contact tracing, she doesn’t expect the case numbers to rise too much.

“The good news I want people to know is that we have an effective vaccine against monkeypox; it’s part of the national stockpile,” Bhadelia said. “We have antiviral medications that may work and we don’t expect these clusters to get bigger.”


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