Updated April 6, 2023. Refer to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Information for Clinicians) for the most current information. See Diagnostic Pearls section for the CDC case definitions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared mpox (historically, monkeypox) to be a public health emergency of international concern on July 23, 2022. Mpox was declared a public health emergency in the United States on August 4, 2022. The US national public health emergency declaration ended on January 31, 2023.
As of March 29, 2023, the CDC (2022 Outbreak Cases & Data) reported 86 746 confirmed cases of mpox globally in over 100 locations, the vast majority of which did not historically report mpox infections, and more than 30 286 confirmed cases across the United States, including 38 deaths. The 7-day daily average of new cases peaked in August of 2022 and has receded to very low levels as of April 4, 2023. Per CDC modeling analyses, however, most jurisdictions in the United States may be at risk of resurgence or new mpox outbreaks without continued efforts to vaccinate those at risk.
Transmission continues to occur primarily among men who have sex with men (MSM), but any individual who has been in close, personal contact with someone who has mpox – regardless of age, sexual orientation, or gender identity – is at risk for contracting mpox.
Mpox virus infections in children and adolescents younger than 16 years of age have been extremely rare, representing 0.002% of all US cases; none of the cases resulted in critical illness or death. Children aged 0-12 years typically acquired mpox after skin-to-skin contact with an infected household member during caregiving activities, and adolescents aged 13 years and above were most frequently exposed through male-to-male sexual contact.
Domestic animals, pets, and wildlife in close contact with an infected individual may also be at risk for contracting illness.
Immunocompromised patient considerations: Immunocompromised individuals, particularly people with advanced or inadequately treated HIV, are at risk for severe and prolonged illness and even death. An increasing proportion of cases have been identified among Black and Hispanic / Latino individuals, who are disproportionately affected by HIV.
The 2022 outbreak of mpox is unique in several ways.
- Many cases have no clear connection to the larger clusters of cases and no clear history of associated travel.
- In the 2022 outbreak, it appears mpox is spreading through specific social and sexual networks, particularly among persons who identify as gay, bisexual, or MSM, although it is in no way limited to any specific population.
Community transmission seems to be occurring through close contact, ie, direct contact with skin lesions or bodily fluids, or indirect contact via contaminated clothing or linens, or exposure to large respiratory droplets. Twenty-one people in Spain are believed to have contracted mpox at a single tattoo parlor. Their presentations included cutaneous inflammation and necrosis local to their tattoo or piercing site.
Anyone who has had close physical contact with someone with mpox is at risk of contracting the virus.
The incubation period of mpox is approximately 12 days (7-14 day range usually, but can be 5-21 days).
The clinical presentation is distinct from prior descriptions of the illness. Notably, anogenital lesions (in some cases painful, in others painless), often without a prodrome, are being observed.
- Many patients have had no associated or preceding febrile illness, fatigue, or other systemic symptoms.
- The eruption that many of these patients develop does not begin on the face, hands, and legs and may not be widespread, nor are the lesions initially numerous. Many patients have presented with a small number of lesions (in some cases 1 or 2) involving the genital or perianal region before the rash spreads to the extremities. These lesions can be, but are not always, quite painful and/or pruritic and may leave scarring.
- The classically described lymphadenopathy associated with mpox does not seem to be a requisite aspect of cases in this outbreak, with some patients having only a single swollen lymph node and some having no lymphadenopathy.
- Some patients present with proctitis or anorectal pain.
- Oropharyngeal symptoms have been reported (including pharyngitis, oral / tonsillar lesions, odynophagia, and epiglottitis) as have conjunctival mucosa lesions.
In the 2022 outbreak, mpox may present in a form that can be very subtle and easily mistaken for many other conditions such as primary and secondary syphilis, genital herpes simplex virus (HSV), and chancroid, among others. This presentation has been described across many parts of Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.
Human-to-human transmission occurs through close contact, ie, large respiratory droplets, direct contact with skin lesions or bodily fluids, or indirect contact via contaminated clothing or linens. The WHO notes that anyone who has had close physical contact with someone with mpox is at risk of contracting the virus, and there is a high likelihood that further cases with unidentified chains of transmission will be identified. MSM may be at higher risk for infection.
All skin lesions may be infectious. Persons are thought to be infectious starting 1-4 days prior to the onset of symptoms (a UK study of more than 2700 people with confirmed mpox virus between May 6 and August 1, 2022, suggests that presymptomatic transmission [1-4 days before symptoms appear] occurred in around half of all cases [53%]). Patients should be considered to be infectious until crusts have fallen off and the underlying skin re-epithelialized.
Mpox is a rare zoonotic Orthopoxvirus infection that is clinically similar to smallpox.
There are 2 clades of mpox, with differing mortality rates. The Central Africa (Congo Basin) clade is both more contagious and more severe with a reported mortality rate of around 10.6%. The West African clade is thought to be less severe with a mortality rate of about 3.6%.
Historically, mpox begins with a prodrome of fever, headache, malaise, backache, lymphadenopathy, chills, nonproductive cough, and arthralgias followed 1-10 days later (usually by day 3) by the development of a papular, vesicular, then pustular eruption on the face, trunk, and extremities. Some patients also experience myalgias, nausea and vomiting, lethargy, sore throat, dyspnea, and sweats. The clinical presentation is similar to but milder than that of smallpox, with the primary difference being that individuals with mpox develop lymphadenopathy, whereas those with smallpox do not. Illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks. Individuals who received smallpox vaccination were reported to develop milder cases.
Before the 2022 outbreak, cases in the United States were primarily limited to laboratory workers, pet shop workers, and veterinarians. There were 2 US cases in 2021 (July and November), both from travelers returning from Nigeria.
In Africa, the disease affects people who have hunted or eaten squirrels and other infected mammals. Animal species susceptible to mpox virus may include nonhuman primates, lagomorphs (rabbits), and some rodents. Predominant person-to-person transmission and prolonged chains of transmission were suspected in 1996 when 71 cases emerged in Katako-Kombe Health Zone, Kasai-Oriental, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, and again in 2003 in the Likouala region of Republic of the Congo. In order to sustain the disease in the human population, it was believed that repeated animal reintroduction of mpox virus was needed.
The first documented outbreak of mpox in the Western Hemisphere was attributed to a shipment of small mammals from Ghana to the United States in 2003. An infected Gambian giant rat from this shipment infected prairie dogs, which in turn transmitted the disease to humans. The prairie dogs were sold by a Milwaukee animal distributor to 2 pet shops in the Milwaukee area and during a pet “swap meet” (pets for sale or exchange) in northern Wisconsin. Patients from this outbreak reported direct or close contact with prairie dogs, most of which were sick. Illness in the prairie dogs was frequently reported as beginning with a blepharoconjunctivitis that was followed by the appearance of nodular lesions in some cases. Some prairie dogs died from the illness while others reportedly recovered. Lesions in the 2003 US outbreak differed from smallpox lesions in that they were not in the same stage of evolution at the same time. In some patients seen in the United States in 2003, early lesions became ulcerated, especially those at animal bite / scratch sites.
Some cases from the 2022 outbreak seem to lack or have mild prodromal symptoms. Look for one or a few papular, vesicular, pustular, or ulcerative lesions involving the genitals or perianal region. Some patients may present with proctitis or pharyngitis. Individuals with advanced or inadequately treated HIV are at risk of life-threatening disease.
In a case series of over 500 patients with mpox infection diagnosed between April 27 and June 24, 2022, at over 40 locations and 16 countries, the most common body locations for lesions were the anogenital area (73%); the trunk, arms, and legs (55%); the face (25%); and the palms and soles (10%). Lesion types included macules, pustules, vesicles, and crusted lesions. Lesions in different stages of development were seen. Mucosal lesions were present in around 40% of patients. Systemic manifestations included fever, lethargy, myalgia, headache, and lymphadenopathy; these symptoms often preceded a generalized rash.
Impact of skin color on clinical presentation: In darker skin colors, erythema can be difficult to discern, and may appear pink, violaceous, dark brown, or any shade of gray. In lighter skin colors, they may appear any shade of pink or red.
Immunocompromised patient considerations: Per the CDC, severe manifestations have included the following.
- Atypical or persistent rash with coalescing or necrotic lesions, or both, some which have required extensive surgical debridement or amputation of an affected extremity.
- Lesions on a significant proportion of the total body surface area, which may be associated with edema and secondary bacterial or fungal infections, among other complications.
- Lesions in sensitive areas (including mucosal surfaces such as, oropharynx, urethra, rectum, vagina) resulting in severe pain that interferes with activities of daily living.
- Bowel lesions that are exudative or cause significant tissue edema, leading to obstruction.
- Severe lymphadenopathy that can be necrotizing or obstructing (such as in airways).
- Lesions leading to stricture and scar formation resulting in significant morbidity such as urethral and bowel strictures, phimosis, and facial scarring.
- Involvement of multiple organ systems and associated comorbidities, including:
- Oropharyngeal lesions inhibiting oral intake
- Pulmonary involvement with nodular lesions
- Neurologic conditions including encephalitis and transverse myelitis
- Cardiac complications including myocarditis and pericardial disease
- Ocular conditions including severe conjunctivitis and sight-threatening corneal ulcerations
- Urologic involvement including urethritis and penile necrosis
In classic mpox (that is commonly seen in Africa), skin lesions develop 1-3 days after onset of fever. Skin lesions evolve from macules (that are present for 1-2 days) to papules (1-2 days), then to vesicles (1-2 days) and pustules (that last for 5-7 days) and, ultimately, crusts (that may last for up to 14 days). Umbilication of vesicles and pustules may be seen. Crusts may be hemorrhagic. While the majority of lesions are at the same stage of development, lesions at differing stages may be seen.
In classic mpox, the rash usually starts on the face and distal extremities with centripetal spread to involve the more proximal extremities and trunk. Lesions commonly involve the face (95%), palms and soles (75%), and oral mucous membranes (70%) and, less commonly, the genitalia (30%; although among 2022 cases this seems higher) and conjunctiva (20%; can be sight-threatening). Lesion number can vary from 1 to more than 1000. In addition to lesions on the head, trunk, and extremities, patients can have initial and satellite lesions on the palms, soles, and extremities. Rashes can generalize in some patients.
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