TOKYO, Japan — President Joe Biden sought Monday to calm concerns about recent cases of monkeypox that have been identified in Europe and the United States, saying he did not see the need to institute strict quarantine measures.
Speaking in Tokyo a day after he said the virus was something “to be concerned about," Biden said, ”I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19."
Monkeypox is rarely identified outside of Africa. But as of Friday, there were 80 confirmed cases worldwide, including at least two in the United States, and another 50 suspected ones. On Sunday, one presumptive case of monkeypox also was being investigated in Broward County in South Florida, which state health officials said appeared to be related to international travel.
Although the disease belongs to the same virus family as smallpox, its symptoms are milder. People usually recover within two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized, but the disease occasionally is deadly.
To date, no one has died in the outbreak. Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, a rash and lesions on the face or genitals. WHO estimates the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people, but smallpox vaccines are protective and some antiviral drugs are being developed.
British health officials are exploring whether the disease is being sexually transmitted. Health officials have asked doctors and nurses to be on alert for potential cases, but said the risk to the general population is low. The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended all suspected cases be isolated and that high-risk contacts be offered smallpox vaccine.
Biden said the smallpox vaccine works for monkeypox. Asked whether the U.S. has enough stockpile of that vaccine to handle the monkeypox spread, Biden said, “I think we do have enough to deal with the likelihood of a problem.”
Cases of the smallpox-related disease have previously been seen only among people with links to central and West Africa. But in the past week, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, U.S., Sweden and Canada all reported infections, mostly in young men who hadn’t previously traveled to Africa.
France, Germany, Belgium and Australia confirmed their first cases Friday.
“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several World Health Organization advisory boards.
“This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he said.