Monkeypox likely isn’t much of a threat to the public, a White House official says

An electron microscope image shows monkeypox virus particles.

File photo: This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the CDC shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virus particles, left, and spherical immature particles, right. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP)

The risk posed to the U.S. general public from ongoing outbreaks of monkeypox cases reported in Europe, the U.K. and Canada is low, a White House official told Morning Edition on Monday.

Dr. Raj Panjabi, Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense at the National Security Council, says the fewer than 10 cases seen in the United States so far have not been severe — “flu-like symptoms and a rash which can be painful but resolves in two to four weeks” — and aren’t likely to get much worse.

“Historically in countries with weaker health care systems less than 1% of patients have died from this milder strain,” Panjabi said. “We have access to vaccines and even treatments here in the U.S., and so the risk we believe is substantially lower.”

In dozens of cases from other U.S. outbreaks over the past 20 years, all patients fully recovered, he said.

So far in the U.S., one case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Massachusetts. A few more are suspected in New York, Florida and Utah, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cases all involve people who have recently travelled abroad.

“We’re in the early days of this response,” said Capt. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s division of high consequence pathogens and pathology, at a briefing. “It’s likely that there are going to be additional cases reported in the United States.”

The virus usually spreads from person to person through sustained, skin-to-skin contact with someone with rashes or lesions.

“What we’re talking about here is close contact. It’s not a situation where if you’re passing someone in the grocery store, they’re going to be at risk for monkeypox,” McQuiston said.

And while anyone can contract or spread the virus, health officials say many of the people affected identify as gay or bisexual men.

“Monkeypox appears to be circulating globally in parts of the gay community,” says Dr. John Brooks, medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s division of HIV prevention.

In the recent cases, Brooks says the rash “is showing up in different parts of the body than we’d typically expect to see it,” in some cases in the genital area. He wants health care providers to be aware that people coming in for a sexually transmitted disease evaluation may need to be checked for monkeypox, if there’s been an exposure.

Read more about monkeypox outbreaks, and why health officials have concerns despite the low number of cases.

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