It’s only a matter of time until Benton, Lincoln or Linn counties will see a case of hMPXV, also known as monkeypox, according to Adam Brady, MD, of Samaritan Infectious Disease. However, unlike COVID-19, monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily between humans and is rarely fatal.
During the first week of August, the ongoing spread of the hMPXV virus was declared to be a national public health emergency. The emergency declaration was in concert with the Food and Drug Administration’s work to explore new strategies that could help get vaccines to affected communities across the country.
Currently, Samaritan Health Services has limited doses of the vaccine.
Dr. Brady said it is important to understand how the disease is spread and what people who are at risk can do to protect themselves.
“We need to be clear how it is spread,” Dr. Brady said. “The infection is most easily transmitted through prolonged close contact with an infected person, like skin-to-skin contact, contact with fluid from hMPXV lesions or possibly from respiratory droplets.”
Most transmission during the current outbreak is from direct skin-to-skin contact that occurs during sexual activity among persons who identify as gay, bisexual and as men who have sex with men. However, experts caution that this is not a disease that affects only one particular group of people and is not sexually transmitted. Anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.
“It is important to realize how and where the infection is spreading in our community and to manage the outbreak accordingly, but also not to stigmatize the infection or a group of people,” said Dr. Brady. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see hMPXV outside the LGBTQ community, but at this time the risk of exposure outside of the current transmission networks is low.”
The Jynneos vaccine manufactured by the Danish company Bavarian Nordic A/S is available to prevent hMPXV infection in those at risk or recently exposed. By early August the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had shipped more than 602,000 doses of the vaccine to state agencies. HHS has allocated 1.1 million doses to states and jurisdictions in total and is making more doses available as jurisdictions use their current supply, according to a press release last week. HHS also announced that it has accelerated the delivery of an additional 150,000 doses to arrive in the U.S. next month. The doses, which were slated to arrive in November, will now arrive in the U.S. in September.
The U.S. government’s comprehensive strategy to combat the hMPXV outbreak includes scaling the production and availability of vaccines, expanding testing capacity, making testing more convenient and conducting robust outreach to stakeholders and members of LGBTQ communities.
What Is hMPXV?
Human monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox. It is typically found in parts of West Africa and Central Africa. Until recently, almost all cases were linked to the African continent, where rodents, not monkeys, are thought to carry the virus and sometimes infect humans.
This current outbreak in North America and Europe appears to stem from person-to-person contact that is not linked to travel. The virus is rarely fatal, and most cases will clear up on their own without treatment in a few weeks, Dr. Brady said. However, the rash can be extremely uncomfortable, and treatment may be needed for some cases.
How Does It Spread?
Unlike COVID-19, patients with monkeypox are likely to be contagious only when they have symptoms. It is not easy to catch monkeypox just by breathing. It will likely only spread through the air with prolonged contact, like talking closely for a long period of time, with somebody who is infected, said Dr. Brady.
Most cases of the current outbreak are transmitted through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, which can occur when having sex with someone who’s infected or by touching their rash or scabs. Touching things that have traces of their fluid — clothes, towels or sheets — could also transmit the virus.
What Happens If I Get Infected?
Traditionally, people will notice flu-like symptoms (such as fever and muscle aches) and may get headaches and swollen lymph nodes, however most people during the current outbreak have no symptoms before developing a rash.
The rash often shows up on the face or genitals and may spread to other areas . A rash is nearly always present in hMPXV, even when other symptoms vary, and can be very painful. No deaths have been reported from monkeypox in the U.S. It is rare to require emergency care or hospitalization for monkeypox, but this may be necessary if the rash is extremely painful or widespread. Antiviral treatments are also available for severe cases. If you think you may have been infected, contact your primary care provider, call a Samaritan urgent care or walk-in clinic, or contact your local county health department.
Before you head in to see a health care provider, call ahead so the staff can prepare. Make sure you cover any rash areas with clothing and wear a mask.
Your provider might ask you to take a test to determine if you have monkeypox.
Am I Eligible for a Vaccine?
As the vaccine supply is extremely limited, doses are currently being prioritized for people who are at the highest risk of exposure or people who have been exposed to the virus. To find out if you are eligible for a vaccine call your primary care provider or the county health department. You can also view current eligibility information provided by the Oregon Health Authority.