Monkeypox

You have likely seen many headlines about monkeypox, a disease similar to smallpox but much less lethal, with case numbers slowly rising in the United States. Unfortunately, it has made it here to Fairfax County, but there is no reason to panic. With the right information, you can take the appropriate steps to make sure you and your loved ones are healthy.

Monkeypox, according to the Center for Disease Control, is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Symptoms of infection can include a fever, headache, muscle and backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and respiratory symptoms like coughing, a sore throat, or a runny nose. There is also the possibility of a rash of potentially painful or itchy blisters, according to the CDC. They caution that most people who are infected with monkeypox will experience symptoms within three weeks of exposure.

The Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) explained that monkeypox is spread “via skin-to-skin contact with infection lesions and by touching infected or shared items with an infected person.” This includes the following, according to the FCHD:

• Sexual or intimate contact (including oral, anal, and vaginal sex)  

• Hugging, kissing, cuddling, and massage

• Sharing a bed, sharing a towel, or sharing clothes that have not been washed 

It can also spread from mother to child via placenta or close contact after birth and between sexual partners. It cannot be spread through only casual contact, according to the FCHD.

The Virginia Department of Health is currently keeping a dashboard of confirmed cases of monkeypox in the state, and it is broken down into health districts. As of Aug. 1, the Fairfax Health District has accounted for 24 cases. There are a total of 105 confirmed cases in the state. You can view the daily-updated dashboard at https://bit.ly/VDH-Monkeypox.

Epidemiologists at FCHD explain, however, that the disease has received an unwarranted stigma.

“This is not a ‘gay’ disease and anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, can contract the virus through close contact with an infected person,” they said.

The FCHD does caution that as of right now in the U.S., the majority of people who have been infected with the virus have been gay or bisexual men. To avoid infection, the epidemiologists at FCHD have a few tips.

“Avoiding sex with persons who may be infected or in high-risk situations are important preventive steps to avoiding the virus,” they said. “Avoid direct contact with secretions that may be infectious such as saliva or semen. Also, become educated about the symptoms of the virus.”

Monkeypox, furthermore, is different from COVID-19, in that it is much harder to transmit, the epidemiologists at FCHD said.

“Different diseases require different approaches to limit transmission. As monkeypox and COVID-19 are spread very differently, the approaches used to control the spread of COVID would not be appropriate for monkeypox,” they said. “COVID-19 is much more transmissible from person to person, therefore approaches such as school closures, business closures, or mask mandates were all options to consider. Given monkeypox is much harder to transmit from person to person, these approaches are not something public health would consider at this time.”

Lucy Caldwell, director of communications at the FCHD, shared what to do if you think you may have been infected.

“Currently, for individuals who have symptoms of monkeypox or have been exposed to the virus through contact with someone who has monkeypox, the health department is providing screening and, in some cases, vaccinations,” she said.

While vaccinations are limited, Caldwell said small shipments from VDH arrive each week for local health departments to administer. 

Meanwhile, the CDC has many recommendations for people who have confirmed cases of monkeypox, including how to handle pets, how to deal with waste, and how to handle laundry. This information can be found at https://bit.ly/Monkeypox-At-Home and https://bit.ly/Monkeypox-With-Pets

For information on treatment and for the most recent update on the county’s response to monkeypox, visit https://bit.ly/3ONeT5j.

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