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There are now more than 200 monkeypox and orthopoxvirus cases confirmed in the U.S., and experts are warning that the virus is mutating more that previously believed.
In a study published Thursday in the journal Nature Medicine, a group of Portuguese researchers found that there were an average of 50 mutations in samples from 2022 compared with those from 2018 and 2019.
They wrote that the mutation rate – discovered after looking at 15 monekypox virus sequences – may suggest a case of “accelerated evolution.”
Genetic analysis from earlier this month previously suggested that there are two distinct strains in the U.S., raising the possibility that the virus had been circulating for a while.
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Current data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the majority of cases in California, New York and Illinois.
Kentucky health officials announced the state’s first probable case on Friday.
However, scientists have noted that the outbreak is potentially much larger than the current case count.
The CDC confirmed that there has been evidence of local transmission of monkeypox, in addition to the cases where the infected had traveled abroad.
This weekend is New York City’s annual Pride weekend, and some residents told The New York Times they were taking monekypox virus transmission risk into account.
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On Thursday health officials in the Big Apple expanded access to a monkeypox vaccine.
However, citing high demand, the city-run Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic – the only facility in New York administering the vaccine – said it would no longer be able to accommodate walk-ins almost immediately and that all appointments had been filled through next Monday.
The Biden administration has begun to ship monkeypox virus tests to commercial laboratories, which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said would “dramatically expand testing capacity nationwide.”
Although the majority of new monkeypox cases have been seen in gay or bisexual men, experts caution that anyone is at potential risk.
People normally become infected with the monkeypox virus through contact with the skin lesions or bodily fluids of infected animals or humans or through contact with materials contaminated with the virus.
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Monkeypox, which is related to smallpox, has milder symptoms.
Some symptoms of monkeypox include fever, chills, rash and aches, before lesions develop.