Monkeypox, a rare viral disease found primarily in central and west Africa but gaining ground in the United States and elsewhere, has finally reached Sonoma County.
Three suspected cases were discovered at the scene, said Dr. Kismet Baldwin, the county assistant health officer responsible for local monkeypox control. Baldwin said the three cases, all males, were discovered within the past week and a half.
Officials said they could not provide detailed information on the cases due to health privacy laws. But Baldwin said one case involved someone who had traveled from the United States and developed symptoms after returning home.
The other two cases did not involve international travel, although one person reported out-of-state travel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the source of recent monkeypox transmission is unclear, but early data suggests gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men account for a high number of cases.
“All of our current cases have identified as men having sex with men,” Baldwin said. But health officials, including Baldwin, emphasize that anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.
Baldwin said local contact tracers are following any possible exposures resulting from those three cases — eight people in all.
“For the (three) cases that we had, we get a detailed medical history and try to find out who that person was in contact with at or just before the time of the infection,” Baldwin said. “We are making every effort to reach out to the individuals who have had contacts to know their story and tried to make it visible.”
Local testing of the three cases confirmed that the men were infected with orthopoxvirus, a genus that includes monkeypox. Local health officials must assume that proven cases of orthopoxvirus are in fact monkeypox until further testing is done.
The orthopoxvirus genus also includes variola virus (which causes smallpox) and cowpox virus. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox. Baldwin said local samples would need to be sent to the CDC for absolute confirmation of monkeypox.
Monkeypox often presents as a rash that can look like pimples or blisters and appears on the face, mouth, and other parts of the body such as the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus. Symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as fever and lack of energy.
Baldwin said the three local cases had symptoms that were “fairly mild” and did not require hospitalization. “They might just not be feeling great, not a big subjective fever … and then (they) developed lesions at or around the same time, but all of them have been able to stay home and isolate, and none of them are hospitalized,” she said .
Monkeypox, which is much less communicable than COVID-19, is spread in a variety of ways and usually involves very close or physical contact, Baldwin said. This includes intimate skin contact, including sexual contact; Exposure to contaminated materials such as towels, bedding, and clothing; and possibly by large respiratory droplets.
“But it’s not quite the same as COVID, where those are small particles that go a long way,” she said.
Baldwin stressed that there was nothing to worry about and that the current outbreaks of monkeypox are unlikely to be as widespread as COVID-19.
“You don’t have to worry, but you should be aware and vigilant that this is something that’s happening in the community,” she said.
Local health authorities advise the following:
- Avoid close physical contact with anyone who has symptoms, including wounds or rashes.
- Ask your intimate partner, including sexual partners, if they have had any of the symptoms.
- Those who think they have been exposed to someone with monkeypox symptoms should contact their doctor.
- If you develop a possible monkeypox rash, try to cover the rash and avoid letting it come into contact with others while you’re making sure what it is.
According to the CDC, there are currently 790 cases of monkeypox in the United States and 136 in California. Global health authorities have detected 8,238 cases in 57 locations.
At the end of May there were only three cases in the USA and one suspected case in California. According to health officials, the monkeypox virus has been around for decades, and past outbreaks have never resulted in a pandemic.
It was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a smallpox-like disease occurred in monkey colonies kept for research, according to the CDC. Although the disease is called “monkey pox,” the cause of the disease remains unknown. African rodents and non-human primates such as monkeys can harbor the virus and infect humans.
You can reach staff writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or [email protected] On Twitter @pressreno.