Health and Science

Rare case of monkeypox found in Texas resident who had traveled internationally

Erika Edwards
The Soekarno Hatta Airport Quarantine Health Officer randomly checked the temperature of passengers who had just landed at Soekarno Hatta Airport, Tangerang, Banten, on May, 15, 2019.
Dasril Roszandi | NurPhoto | Getty Images

A case of monkeypox has been confirmed in a Texas resident who had flown to Atlanta from Nigeria on July 8, with a final destination of Dallas Love Field Airport on July 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. It is the first case of the virus seen in the United States in nearly two decades.

The patient is hospitalized in isolation in Dallas and is in stable condition, health officials with the Dallas County Health and Human Services said.

"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.

The illness, caused by the monkeypox virus, has not been detected in the U.S. since a 2003 outbreak, which involved 47 people. That outbreak was traced to pet prairie dogs in the Midwest that harbored the virus.

But monkeypox can also spread from person to person through respiratory droplets or other bodily fluids.

One reason the risk of spread may be low in this case is that the patient — as well as fellow airline passengers — had been required to wear masks while flying because of the pandemic, officials said in the statement.

More from NBC News

Graphic: Coronavirus deaths in the U.S., per day

Covid cases, deaths rising in U.S., as CDC warns of 'pandemic of the unvaccinated'

MAP: Covid-19 vaccination tracker across the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping to contact the patient's fellow passengers and assessing their potential risks.

"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," Dr. Philip Huang, director of the Dallas County Health and Human Services, said in a press release.

Monkeypox is related to smallpox, which was eradicated worldwide in 1980, thanks to the smallpox vaccine. Both illnesses cause a distinctive rash that lasts for about a month. Smallpox had a higher fatality rate than monkeypox.

It usually takes seven to 14 days after a person is exposed to the monkeypox virus to develop symptoms, according to the CDC, which begin like many other viruses: fatigue, fever, headache, muscle aches.

Within a week of symptom onset, an infected person develops a bumpy, raised rash that often spreads to the entire body. The person is considered contagious until those raised bumps have scabbed over and fallen off.

Most patients recover within a month. In rare cases, the virus can be fatal. No one in the 2003 outbreak in the U.S. died.

The virus got its name because it was first found in laboratory monkeys in the late 1950s. It wasn't until 1970 that it was detected in humans in Congo. Cases have almost exclusively been contained to remote areas of Central and West Africa.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine for monkeypox, the CDC says, though the smallpox vaccine was used in 2003 to help contain the outbreak.