BACKGROUND: Following an outbreak of cases of vesicular-pustular rash with fever, evocative of human monkeypox, in Bas-Uélé province, Democratic Republic of Congo, surveillance was strengthened.
METHODS: Households with at least one active generalized vesicular-pustular rash case were visited, and contact and clinical history information were collected from all household members. Whenever possible, skin lesions were screened by polymerase chain reaction for the monkeypox virus, followed by the varicella-zoster virus, when negative for the former.
RESULTS: Polymerase chain reaction results were obtained for 77 suspected cases, distributed in 138 households, of which 27.3% were positive for monkeypox, 58.4% positive for chickenpox, and 14.3% negative for both. Confirmed monkeypox cases presented more often with monomorphic skin lesions on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. Integrating these three features into the case definition raised the specificity to 85% but would miss 50% of true monkeypox cases. A predictive model fit on patient demographics and symptoms had 97% specificity and 80% sensitivity but only 80% and 33% in predicting out-of-sample cases.
CONCLUSION: Few discriminating features were identified and the performance of clinical case definitions was suboptimal. Rapid field diagnostics are needed to optimize worldwide early detection and surveillance of monkeypox.