Monkeypox hasn’t established a huge presence in Virginia, but it’s starting to make a little bit of noise, as the U.S. moves to contain an outbreak.
With five additional infections identified Wednesday (June 29), the Commonwealth has now reported a total of eight cases of the disease, six of them in the Northern region. The first case was confirmed in a Northern Virginia woman on May 27.
The Fairfax County Health Department declined to confirm whether any of the cases so far have been in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
“At this time, the Virginia Department of Health is limiting the sharing of geographic case data to the regional level to ensure patient confidentiality,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said by email. “However, the FCHD is committed to providing up-to-date information on this virus on our county website and will continue to share information as the situation evolves.”
A rare disease caused by a virus in the same family as the smallpox virus, monkeypox poses a low risk of infection to the general public, and a full-blown pandemic like COVID-19 is considered extremely unlikely, according to health experts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970, and since then, the disease has been almost exclusively found in central and west Africa — until this year, when it has spread to Europe, South America, and other areas that don’t typically see cases.
The first confirmed U.S. case in the outbreak was announced on May 18. Officials are investigating the source of the infections, including why a high number of cases so far have been among men who have sex with men, though anyone who is exposed is at risk.
Per the Fairfax County Health Department, the monkeypox virus spreads through broken skin, respiratory tracts and “mucous membranes,” such as the eyes, nose, or mouth. Exposure can come from close contact with an infected person or animal as well as objects and surfaces they have touched.
Symptoms typically emerge six to 14 days after exposure, sometimes in the form of a fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, or exhaustion. Patients then develop a rash that generally lasts for two to four weeks.
There are no existing treatments specifically for monkeypox, but the county health department advises anyone who is sick or has symptoms to seek medical care from a health care provider.
There are two licensed smallpox vaccines in the U.S. that data indicates are effective at preventing monkeypox infections, according to the CDC.
The FCHD says it has gotten “a handful of requests” for vaccinations, but in Virginia, their availability through local health departments is currently limited to individuals who know they have been exposed to a confirmed case.
“We do have a small amount in order to provide it to individuals with known exposure to cases if/when we need to,” Caldwell wrote.
Fairfax Health District residents can call the county health department at 703-246-2433 or email email@example.com if they think they have been exposed or are seeking more information about the vaccines.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this week that it will deliver 296,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine in the coming weeks, using a tiered system to allocate supplies to areas with the highest levels of transmission and need.
The national vaccination campaign is expected to make 1.6 million doses available this year.
The Virginia Department of Health said in this week’s news release that it is “actively working with our federal partners to make these services more accessible for Virginians.”
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