What California health officials are doing in the wake of a suspected monkeypox case

·3 min read

California’s first suspected monkeypox case is isolating at home and “doing well,” Sacramento County’s health officer said Tuesday, as officials investigate how many others may have come in contact with the person.

“We’re still determining the number of close contacts,” Sacramento County Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye told reporters during a news conference, saying health officials are still trying to define what close contacts are in this case.

Kasirye shared little more about the infected person at the Tuesday briefing.

The individual returned to California from Europe sometime before Saturday, Kasirye said, but Kasirye would not comment on when the person arrived in California or whether the person landed at Sacramento International Airport. The person’s age, gender or other identifying information were not released.

Results of tests conducted at Sacramento County’s health lab confirmed the virus two days later on Monday. Officials first learned of the case Saturday after the individual’s health provider called county officials, Kasirye said.

“They communicated with the health care provider who then reported it to us,” Kasirye said.

Local and state officials await test results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would confirm the infection beyond an orthopox test that came back positive.

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a monkeypox virion, obtained from a sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. Monkeypox, a disease that rarely appears outside Africa, has been identified by European and American health authorities in recent days.
This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a monkeypox virion, obtained from a sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. Monkeypox, a disease that rarely appears outside Africa, has been identified by European and American health authorities in recent days.

State prepared for more tests

“The California Department of Public Health is working quickly with local and federal health officials to ensure appropriate care and response, including contact tracing and post-exposure prevention for close contacts,” state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said in a statement. “The risk of monkeypox in the general population is very low.”

The California Department of Public Health’s Richmond laboratory is also prepared to perform preliminary tests specimens from people suspected to have contracted the virus, state health officials said Tuesday.

Kasirye sought to reassure that monkeypox “is a rare disease in the U.S.” and not the virulently contagious virus that COVID-19 is, saying infections are mild and that the virus is normally killed by using cleaners or detergents. People can contract the virus via respiratory droplets from close contact; direct contact with skin lesions; or contact with an infected person’s bedding or clothing.

“It’s important that if people are exhibiting symptoms that they contact their health care provider, so if they need to make a determination, they can do that right away,” Kasirye said.

Other cases in the U.S.

If confirmed, it would be the second known infection after a case was confirmed in Massachusetts last week. There were four more probable cases across the U.S. pending — two in Utah, one in Florida and one in New York City. In the other cases, all were identified as men who had traveled outside the U.S.

To date, the World Health Organization has recorded more than 90 cases of monkeypox in a dozen countries including Canada, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, the U.S. and Australia.

Kasirye did not speculate on the origin of the Sacramento case other than the travel to Europe. But the outbreak of the monkeypox virus in developed countries was described by a leading adviser to the World Health Organzation as “a random event,” that appeared to have been caused by sexual activity at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium, the Associated Press reported.

Two types of vaccines are available to combat the virus, Kasirye said, one for smallpox, the other specific to monkeypox, but would only be deployed in an outbreak scenario, Kasirye said, adding that Sacramento County health officials would have to formally request the doses from the CDC in Atlanta.

“This is very different from COVID,” she said, but added, “We have yet to see where this is going to go or how many cases we’re going to get.”

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