The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a global health emergency, its highest-level warning, and the Biden administration labelled the outbreak a public health emergency Thursday, as experts worry that the virus may gain a permanent foothold in the United States and other countries where it is not traditionally found.
More than 26,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 88 countries this year, most of those in countries that don’t typically see the virus. In the United States, more than 7,100 cases were confirmed as of Aug. 4 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that is probably a significant undercount.
Normally, the virus is found mostly in central and western Africa — where it is endemic in some animals that pass it to people.
What worries global health experts about this outbreak is that it is spreading person to person, primarily among networks of men who have sex with men. Scientists are trying to figure out whether recent mutations to the virus are helping it spread in ways they don’t yet fully understand.
Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox, and how to protect yourself.