As the monkeypox outbreak continues to spread across the country, with cases reported in more than half the states, the number in Maryland has grown to five.
Two new cases were added Tuesday to the state’s tally by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been confirming lab tests done at the local level.
The Maryland Department of Health had said the previous 3 cases were found in the National Capital and Baltimore Metro regions but wouldn’t elaborate on where new cases were discovered.
“MDH continues to closely monitor human monkeypox cases in the state,” said Chase Cook, a health department spokesman. “We are also looking into post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) efforts, including what other states are doing.”
Those efforts include a vaccine for smallpox kept in the stockpiles by the U.S. government that is known to protect against infection by monkeypox. It could be given to health care workers or people at higher risk for infection.
The state sent a letter to health care providers in May in an effort to raise awareness of the virus so they would appropriately screen patients who present with a rash similar to chickenpox, measles or syphilis.
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Public health officials said most cases have been in young men who identify as gay, bisexual or have sex with men, though the virus is not generally considered a sexually transmitted disease.
The letter, from Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy health secretary, said such cases “suggest there may be undetected community transmission among sexual networks.”
Health officials have sought to calm fears among the general population and warn members of the at-risk communities without generating stigma.
Monkeypox is normally a rare viral infection and does not often appear in the United States. It’s spread from close contact with an infected person through skin lesions or bodily fluids or from contaminated bed linens.
According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, symptoms include fever, chills, head and muscle aches, and a rash similar to chickenpox that can spread around the body but are often found on the palms of people’s hands.
There are currently 215 cases in 26 states and Washington, D.C., according to the CDC.
The World Health Organization said there have been more than 3,400 cases and one death reported in 50 countries since the beginning of the year. The organization declined this week to label it a global health emergency.