In May, alarm bells began to sound when cases of monkeypox, a virus typically found only in Africa, appeared in Europe and North America. Since then, public health authorities have confirmed more than 350 cases in half of all U.S. states and more than 5,100 cases globally. On June 1, the United States had fewer than 20 cases, with fewer than 1,000 reported cases worldwide. The seven-day average of new cases has shown a fairly linear and consistent spread of the virus as the total number of infected people grows to ever more eye-catching figures.
Aside from an ominous-sounding name (which the World Health Organization is poised to change over concerns that it incites racism and stigma), what do we know about monkeypox and the current status of the outbreak?
The virus is characterized by a skin rash that often accompanies flu-like symptoms including fever, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle aches. The vast majority of people who contract monkeypox make a full recovery, but it’s possible that pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals may be at greater risk of severe illness.
Monkeypox was first discovered in the late 1950s in West Africa in—you guessed it—monkeys, with the first human cases identified in 1970. The vast majority of cases are historically found in central and west Africa, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo.