Two children have been diagnosed with monkeypox in the United States, health officials said Friday.
One is a toddler in California and the other an infant who is not a US resident but was tested in Washington, DC, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The children were described as healthy and receiving care. How they caught the disease is under investigation, but officials believe it was through family transmission.
Further details were not immediately disclosed.
Wider geographic spread of infections
Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, but this year more than 15,000 cases have been reported in countries that historically do not see the disease.
In the United States and Europe, the vast majority of infections have occurred in men who have sex with men, although health officials have stressed that anyone can catch the virus.
In addition to the two pediatric cases, health officials said they are aware of at least eight women among the more than 2,500 U.S. cases reported so far.
While the virus has mainly spread among men who have sex with men, “I don’t think it’s surprising that we occasionally see cases” outside of this social network, the Dr. Jennifer McQuiston of the CDC.
Officials said the virus can be spread through close personal contact, as well as through towels and bedding.
That means it can happen at home, likely through prolonged or intensive contact, said Dr. James Lawler, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb.
At least 6 non-adult cases in Europe
In Europe, there have been at least six cases of monkeypox in children aged 17 and under.
This week doctors in the Netherlands released a report about a boy who was seen in an Amsterdam hospital with around 20 red-brown bumps scattered over his body. It was monkeypox and doctors said they couldn’t determine how he contracted it.
In Africa, monkeypox infections in children are more common, and doctors have noted higher proportions of severe cases and deaths in young children.
One reason may be that many older people were vaccinated against smallpox as children, which likely gave them some protection against the related monkeypox virus, Lawler said. Vaccinations against smallpox were discontinued when the disease was eradicated about 40 years ago.