By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - President Joe Biden downplayed on Monday the likelihood the US will institute a mandatory monkeypox quarantine after Belgium became the first country to do so as the virus reaches atypical shores.
Monkeypox is a rare virus typically endemic to animals in central and western Africa, but it has recently been detected in people in several western countries, including the UK, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, and France, as well as Canada, Australia, and the US.
The US is in the midst of investigating a third prospective case in Florida after two cases were confirmed in New York City and Massachusetts.
But Biden said he thinks the US outbreak does not rise to "the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19," citing in particular the availability of vaccines that work against monkeypox. He was referring to the smallpox vaccine, which has been shown to be effective against monkeypox as well.
Still, he advised Americans to "be careful" as additional potential cases are probed after saying on Sunday that "everybody should be concerned."
"It is a concern in the sense that if it were to spread, it’s consequential," the president told reporters in South Korea.
Health authorities in Belgium earlier on Monday announced a three-week quarantine period for individuals with confirmed monkeypox cases, and ordered people showing symptoms to immediately go to a hospital emergency room.
Four cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed so far in Belgium, with all related to a festival that took place earlier this month in the city of Antwerp.
The World Health Organization said it is currently tracking roughly 80 cases across 11 countries. About 50 other potential cases are pending investigation, it said in a statement on Friday.
Monkeypox is spread through close contact, including via respiratory droplets and secretions from the lesions that develop in some cases, as well as contact with shared items such as bedding and clothing. In addition to the pustules, those infected may experience flu-like symptoms.