With no confirmed monkeypox cases in Douglas County yet, health department focused on educating about viral disease

photo by: Kevin Anderson/Journal-World File Photo

The Lawrence-Douglas County health department's home at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine St., is pictured in this file photo from July 2010.

No cases of monkeypox have been reported yet in Douglas County, but Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health is working to raise awareness of the viral disease that has recently emerged in Europe and the United States.

Veronica White, preparedness and epidemiology coordinator with the health department, explained the disease to the Journal-World in more detail on Monday. As of the beginning of this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported nearly 3,500 confirmed cases across the United States. Until May, monkeypox was typically seen only in some African countries.

Just two of the roughly 3,500 reported cases in the U.S. have been in Kansas, and White said Douglas County has yet to record any cases.

“For now, we are trying to get prepared by informing health care providers of what they should be looking for in people who may have monkeypox, as well as trying to raise some awareness about monkeypox … so people can make informed health decisions, as well,” White said.

One of the main symptoms is a painful rash or blisters that can occur on the face or inside the mouth, as well as on hands, feet, the chest and other parts of the body, White said. Those blisters can leave permanent scarring. Monkeypox is spread predominantly through direct skin-to-skin contact with the infected rash, open scabs or bodily fluids, but it can also spread from touching items like clothing that have previously touched the infectious rash.

It’s also possible to contract monkeypox from infected animals, White said, or to spread it from people to animals. The CDC recommends people with monkeypox avoid interacting with animals and find someone else to take care of their pets while they recover.

Other symptoms White listed include fever, various aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. Even if one has contracted monkeypox, the disease isn’t contagious unless the person is experiencing symptoms, White said, and it’s rarely fatal.

But there isn’t a cure right now, and White said people who contract monkeypox will have to isolate until their symptoms have resolved; that means their blisters or rashes will have to have completely healed and scabs have to have fallen off, which can take up to four weeks.

The disease is part of the same family of viruses as the variola virus, White said; that’s the same virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to those of smallpox, but they’re milder and less likely to be fatal. That means the smallpox vaccine has some effectiveness against monkeypox infections, White said, and it’s more effective if it’s administered soon after a person’s exposure to the virus. Within four days, it can prevent the onset of the disease entirely, and from four to 14 days after exposure, White said it can lessen the severity of symptoms.

White said people experiencing symptoms of monkeypox should seek medical attention immediately and isolate until they’re able to see a doctor. Their health care provider will work with the health department to help guide care from there. There are tests for monkeypox, which are sent off for testing at the Kansas Health and Environmental Laboratories, then to the CDC if a monkeypox case is confirmed.


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