A Texas resident who recently traveled from Africa has been hospitalized after catching what the Texas Department of State Health Services believes is the first case of monkeypox in the state, a diagnosis that comes 18 years after the nation’s last outbreak of the rare disease.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other heath officials are working to trace the person’s contacts to help prevent another outbreak of the illness. But health officials say the risk to the public is low, especially because COVID-19 precautions on the person’s flights likely kept the virus from spreading.
Monkeypox, which originates from the same family of viruses as smallpox, is a rare disease that causes flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes, progressing to a widespread rash on the face and body, according to the CDC. Most infections last two to four weeks. While it’s known to cause mild infection, it can become a potentially serious viral illness.
People can catch monkeypox by coming in contact with infected animals or animal products, including by preparing wild game or being bitten or scratched by an animal, according to the CDC. Experts believe human-to-human transmission of monkeypox occurs primarily through large respiratory droplets.
Most outbreaks of monkeypox have occurred in Africa, with the first human case recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A U.S. outbreak of monkeypox occurred in 2003, after the virus spread from imported African rodents to pet prairie dogs, resulting in 47 reported cases.
The Texas resident, whose identity will remain anonymous to protect their privacy, took two flights during their return from Africa to the U.S. in early July, according to a CDC press release: one from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta, Georgia, and one from Atlanta to Dallas, Texas.
Asymptomatic individuals can’t spread the virus to others, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services. Passengers on the flights wore face masks while onboard, as well as in the airport due to COVID-19 protocols, diminishing the overall likelihood of spread, according to the release.
“While rare, this case is not a reason for alarm and we do not expect any threat to the general public,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a press release. “Dallas County Health and Human Services is working closely with local providers, as well as our state and federal partners.”
The Texas resident is hospitalized in isolation in Dallas to prevent further viral spread and is in stable condition.
“We have been working closely with the CDC and DSHS and have conducted interviews with the patient and close contacts that were exposed,” Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said. “We have determined that there is very little risk to the general public. This is another demonstration of the importance of maintaining a strong public health infrastructure, as we are only a plane ride away from any global infectious disease.”