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Monkeypox cases are increasing, but it doesn't spread as easily as COVID

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Aspects of the monkeypox outbreak in the U.S. may resemble the early phase of the COVID pandemic. Testing is hard to come by, and vaccines are in short supply. But NPR's Pien Huang explains why monkeypox is different.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: More than 400 people in the U.S. have been afflicted with painful, itchy poxes and lesions that can last for up to a month. It's the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, and it's just getting started.

JENNIFER MCQUISTON: And in the United States, I think we're certainly in a phase of increasing cases.

HUANG: That's Dr. Jennifer McQuiston. She's incident commander for the monkeypox response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. cases first appeared seven weeks ago in people who had traveled to Europe.

MCQUISTON: There appears to be more sustained community transmission happening in some cities in the United States with people maybe not knowing who they got monkeypox from.

HUANG: But McQuiston says monkeypox is not spreading in the same ways as COVID.

MCQUISTON: Monkeypox is very different. It's not spread easily. It requires direct, close contact. And most of the cases that we're aware of are associated with intimate contact and even sexual contacts.

HUANG: The current monkeypox outbreak is concentrated among men who have sex with men with multiple partners and have been somewhere monkeypox is known to be spreading. McQuiston says this is actually dramatically different from the way monkeypox has historically spread. Outbreaks of the virus have been common in parts of Central and West Africa, where it typically spreads from animals, with limited human-to-human transmission. This week, the government rolled out its monkeypox vaccination campaign, making tens of thousands of doses available to people who might have been exposed.

MCQUISTON: Through a combination of the tools we have in hand - and that would be adequate contact tracing, isolating cases, offering vaccine more widely - we'll be able to see cases start to be contained.

HUANG: But she warns that the U.S. will be at risk until the global outbreak is also under control.

Pien Huang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.