The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Friday that the first two cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed in children in the United States — an emerging health worry for parents who are still reeling from the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.
While public health officials are still trying to determine how the children were infected, they believe it was due to household transmission.
One of the children is a California toddler, while the other is an infant visiting the country, officials from the CDC reported. Both are displaying symptoms but are in good health — and both are taking the antiviral drug tecovirimat (also known as TPOXX) for treatment.
Children under the age of 8 are considered higher risk for infection than others in the population.
Up until this point, monkeypox has primarily been spread though sexual contact, and is somewhat isolated in the gay male population. But any close contact between two people can transmit the disease.
Specifically, the CDC reported that close contact can include “holding, cuddling, feeding, as well as through shared items such as towels, bedding, cups, and utensils.”
The CDC said that more general spread of the disease has already started elsewhere and is not surprising in the United States.
“The social networks that we have as humans mean that we have contact with a lot of different people,” said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, MD, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology said in the statement. “And while this outbreak is spreading in a particular social network right now, I think we’ve messaged from the start that there could be cases that occur outside those networks and that we need to be vigilant for it and ready to respond and message about it. I know that in Europe and other places where this outbreak is also expanding, they have reported cases in children, in women. And I think the same thing is happening and expected to happen here in the United States.”
The CDC stressed that the two children in this case were in households with men who had been exposed to the disease.
“Both of those children are traced back to individuals who come from the men-who-have-sex-with-men community, the gay men’s community,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told the Washington Post on Friday.
There is a vaccine available for monkeypox called Jynneos. So far, the vaccine has been used on adults, but the government is making it available for children through special expanded use protocols.
At the moment, though, those eligible for the vaccine are limited to people who know that they were exposed to the virus or who suspect they were exposed. Currently, the vast majority of people contracting monkeypox have had male-to-male sexual contact.
Monkeypox has been found in human populations since the 1970s and is endemic in Africa. But in 2022, over 15,000 cases have been reported around the world — and it is spreading quickly. So far, about 2,800 people in the United States have been diagnosed with the disease.
In Europe, there have been at least six kids infected.
On Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that monkeypox was a global emergency that required international coordination. It’s the second emergency in two years following the emergence of COVID-19.