Health officials in Jefferson County are following three local cases of monkeypox. The virus, which usually only occurs in West and Central Africa, is cropping up in clusters across the globe, and scientists still don’t know why. Local officials say the risk remains relatively low in Louisville.

Monkeypox causes flu-like symptoms and a rash with bumps or blisters. Ninety-nine percent of people recover, but the disease can be fatal for those with compromised immune systems, according to Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness Department Interim Director Dr. Jeff Howard.

The virus spreads primarily by prolonged skin-to-skin contact but can also be airborne. Additionally it can spread through contact with contaminated clothing or bed sheets. Pregnant people can also spread the virus to their fetus.

The first Kentucky case was discovered on June 24 in Jefferson County. As of Monday, health officials have discovered two more cases, though they do not appear to be connected to the first case.

“We believe that one potentially contracted it here in the Louisville Metro area,”  said Stephanie Lokits, assistant nursing director with Louisville’s health department. “The other two have a travel history that indicates to us that potentially they contracted it elsewhere.”

None of the patients have required hospitalization during their recovery, which typically lasts two to four weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“All three cases are working closely with our team,” Howard said. “We have performed contact tracing, we have initiated treatment where appropriate and vaccinated those people that we have identified as close contacts per the CDC recommendation.”

Lokits said the department got about two dozen doses of the monkeypox vaccine, much of which it has already dispensed to close contacts of the infected individuals.

Howard said the outbreak seems to be disproportionately hitting cisgender gay and bisexual men, but that anyone can contract the virus. 

According to the Kentucky Department of Public Health, people who suspect they have monkeypox should contact their physician, cover the area of the rash with clothing, wear a mask and avoid skin-to-skin contact with others.

At this time, the CDC does not recommend universal masking or mass vaccination to protect against monkeypox.

As of July 8, the CDC had identified 767 cases in 40 U.S. states.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.