September 27, 2022
What Does the CDC's Monkeypox Travel Advisory Mean?

As the latest coronavirus surge sweeps the country, travelers now have one more illness to consider as they make plans: monkeypox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging American travelers to “practice enhanced precautions” because of the disease, which is a cousin of smallpox, as cases have been reported in dozens of countries, including the United States. At the time of writing, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal have the highest number of documented cases, with just over 300 in the U.K. representing the greatest count worldwide.

This week, the CDC upgraded its travel health notice for monkeypox to the more serious “Alert – Level 2,” which is the middle tier of its three-level rating system. For now, federal health officials are treating monkeypox the same way they treat other disease outbreaks when it comes to travel (for reference, it’s in the same category as yellow fever in Nigeria and Ghana, and polio in various countries including Uganda and Senegal). The CDC is not issuing monkeypox travel recommendations for individual countries, like it has for coronavirus. “Risk to the general public is low, but you should seek medical care immediately if you develop new, unexplained skin rash (lesions on any part of the body), with or without fever and chills, and avoid contact with others,” says the CDC.

This means the federal body isn’t going so far as to recommend avoiding nonessential travel altogether, but it is suggesting that tourists take some extra precautions, including: avoiding close contact with people who have skin or genital lesions; avoiding contact with wild animals like rats, squirrels, monkeys, and apes; not eating wild game or using products made from wild animals in Africa; and steering clear of clothing, bedding, or other items that may have been contaminated by infected people or animals. The CDC had also previously recommended that people wear masks while traveling to curb the monkeypox spread, but has since backtracked on that advice to avoid “confusion” about the disease, which typically spreads via direct bodily contact. Because it is possible, if not common, for the disease to be airborne, the CDC still recommends masks for people infected with monkeypox and those coming into contact with them.

While travelers may not be at high risk of contracting the disease, the virus continues to perplex scientists and doctors. In the past, humans have become infected with monkeypox after being around a sick animal, most often in west and central Africa (despite the name, the virus is primarily spread by rodents, not monkeys), and the virus hasn’t typically spread easily from person to person.

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