Mutations tend to be lower typically with this virus, although genome sequencing of the cases will help understand the current outbreak, Rosamund Lewis, head of the Smallpox Secretariat that is part of the World Health Organization’s emergency programme, said at a media briefing.
Health experts are watching for worrying spikes that could make the virus more accessible or severe.
More than 100 suspected and confirmed cases of recent outbreaks in Europe and North America have not been severe, said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO responsible for emerging and zoonotic diseases and technical introduction to COVID-19.
“This is a containable situation,” she said, especially in Europe. “But we cannot take our eyes off the ball at what is happening in Africa, in countries where the disease is endemic.”
According to the World Health Organization, atypical outbreaks occur in countries where the virus is not circulating regularly. Scientists are trying to understand the origin of the cases and whether anything has changed about the virus.
The World Health Organization is asking dermatology clinics and primary health care clinics, as well as sexual health clinics, to be on the alert for potential cases.
Many — but not all — of the people diagnosed in the current monkeypox outbreak were men who have sex with men (MSM).
Officials said it’s too early to determine the cause, but it’s likely this population group will seek medical advice or get a sexual health screening.
Monkeypox does not usually spread easily between people, but it can be transmitted through direct interpersonal contact or contact with items used by a person with monkeypox, such as clothing, bedding, or utensils.
“We know that MSM if they discover an unusual rash they are likely to want to resolve it very quickly,” said Andy Seal, a strategy advisor in the WHO’s HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programs Division.
“The fact that they have been proactive in responding to unusual symptoms may be part of the story,” Sell said. “This will become more evident in the coming weeks and days.”
Van Kerkhove said she expects to identify more cases as surveillance expands.
Asked if the initial findings might be fueling discrimination, Sell said: “There are ways we can work with communities to learn from decades of experience about tackling stigma and discrimination with HIV. We want to apply those lessons learned to this experience.”
US health officials said at a press briefing Monday that one case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Massachusetts and four additional presumptive cases have been identified, one each in New York City and Florida, and two in Utah.
They said all were men with a history of international travel consistent with the types of exposure seen elsewhere.