A handful of monkeypox cases have been detected in San Diego County, prompting local public health officials to warn at-risk groups to take precautions to avoid getting the virus that the World Health Organization has now declared a global health emergency.
The virus is spread mostly through close, intimate contact with someone who has monkeypox. Early data suggests that men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases, the county said. But anyone who has been in close contact with someone with monkeypox is at risk of contracting the disease. The World Health Organization cautioned against complacency, saying there is no guarantee it will continue to spread within specific communities.
Here's what you should know:
What is monkeypox?
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The monkeypox virus (hMPXV) is a viral disease from the same family of viruses as smallpox. The two viruses present similar symptoms, including fever, headaches, muscle aches, chills, exhaustion and lesions that begin on one side and spread across the body. The lesions can look like pimples or blisters.
Monkeypox is usually milder than smallpox and may also cause swollen lymph nodes, according to the CDC. Infections typically last two to four weeks and although other strains of the virus have had a fatality rate up to 10%, the current outbreak is rarely lethal.
Infections typically last two to four weeks and is rarely lethal. Only five deaths have been reported worldwide so far.
The virus itself isn't new: It has historically spread at low levels in parts of West and Central Africa. The current outbreak is so unusual because monkeypox typically isn't found in Europe and North America at all.
San Diego County health officials stress cases are rare and the current risk appears to be small. But, anyone with symptoms of monkeypox should contact their health care provider right away or call 2-1-1 if they don't have one.
How does monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox spreads between people primarily through direct contact with infectious sores, scabs, or body fluids, the San Diego County Public Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) said. It can also be spread through respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact, like kissing and intimate contact, including during sex, cuddling or touching parts of the body with monkeypox sores.
Technically, the virus can also transmit through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking, says Dr. Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida — but you'd have to be in close contact with an infected person for several hours for such transmission to occur.
That means it's not considered a sexually transmitted disease. But around 99% of cases in the U.S. are linked to male-to-male sexual contact, according to the WHO.
People at greatest risk have traveled within the last 21 days to areas with monkeypox cases, those who have had contact with someone with a similar rash or confirmed monkeypox diagnosis.
How severe is the monkeypox outbreak?
The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency on July 23, 2022, meaning the outbreak is a significant enough threat to global health that a coordinated international response is needed to prevent the virus from spreading further and potentially escalating into a pandemic.
Although the declaration does not impose requirements on national governments, it serves as an urgent call for action. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the current situation as an outbreak.
On Aug. 1, California declared the monkeypox outbreak a state of emergency, which was meant to help the state coordinate a government-wide response, seek more vaccines and lead outreach and education efforts on where people can get treatment and vaccines.
A day later, the county of San Diego declared a public health emergency. And on Aug. 9, the county ratified a state of emergency in order to request state resources to deal with the monkeypox outbreak.
How many monkeypox cases are there in San Diego?
The first cases of monkeypox in San Diego County were reported on June 16, 2022. In unrelated cases, two people became infected after traveling internationally. Two days later, another positive case was detected among a recent international traveler.
According to the data reported by the county on Aug. 7, there have been 98 confirmed or probable cases of monkeypox detected in San Diego County.
The map below shows the breakdown of cases in California:
Is the monkeypox vaccine available in San Diego?
The FDA has approved two vaccines for preventing monkeypox infection, Jynneos and ACAM2000, the latter of which is considered to have a greater risk of side effects and is not recommended for people who have HIV. So it’s the Jynneos vaccine that officials have been using as a primary weapon against the outbreak.
San Diego started with 600 doses of the Jynneos vaccine but all were quickly distributed, according to the HHSA. In all, more than 5,000 doses have been received by the county as of Aug. 7.
The county is working with leaders in the LGBTQ+ community to plan vaccine clinics.
Upcoming Vaccine Events: There are no upcoming vaccine events.
Doses are also being sent to ocal vaccine providers like UC San Diego, Family Health Centers of San Diego, Vista Community Clinic and San Ysidro Health. San Diego County STD clinics also have some doses available for patients at those clinics.
You must live in San Diego County, be 18 years or older and be at-risk to receive the vaccine. To see if you are eligible and make an appointment, call 2-1-1.
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Who should get the monkeypox vaccine?
The CDC has opened up vaccines to anyone who has been exposed to monkeypox, also known as close contacts of positive cases, as well as anyone with "certain risk factors" even if they have not had exposure to the virus.
But limited supply has prompted the county HHSA to prioritize distributing the vaccine to people at higher risk of contracting and having severe illness from the virus.
The county will offer the vaccine by appointment only to:
- Confirmed contacts of those infected with monkeypox
- At-risk patients of county STD clinics
- People at higher risk of exposure to monkeypox, particularly gay, bisexual, transgender people and men who have sex with men or who have two or more sexual partners
- People who participate in circuit/rave parties
How is monkeypox treated in San Diego?
The county is set to get 80 courses of tecovirimat or TPOXX, which is an antiviral medication used to treat people infected with monkeypox. The region's established healthcare partners will deliver the treatment and focus on those who may be at risk of complications.
How can I get tested for monkeypox in San Diego?
Four commercial laboratories in San Diego are testing for monkeypox: Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, Aegis Sciences,
and Mayo Clinic Laboratories. Fore more information on getting tested for monkeypox in San Diego, click here.
How can you protect yourself against monkeypox?
San Diego County public health officials are encouraging gay, bisexual, transgender people and men who have sex with men to abstain or practice safer sex to avoid getting and spreading the monkeypox virus.
If you know someone with a rash that looks like monkeypox, do not touch the rash. Don't kiss, hug, cuddle, or have sex with that person. Don't share cups or utensils or bedding towels and clothes.