CDC confirms monkeypox in Sacramento County in individual who had traveled abroad

·4 min read
Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC file via AP

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Thursday morning that an individual in Sacramento County has tested positive for monkeypox.

The agency has confirmed one other U.S. case of the viral disease in Massachusetts and is investigating a handful of other probable cases. State and Sacramento County officials have been collaborating with the CDC on California’s first case, and officials have said that the individual contracted monkeypox while traveling in Europe.

“The patient is isolating,” said Dr. Erica Pan, the California state epidemiologist, earlier this week, “and 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. The risk of monkeypox in the general population is very low.”

In announcing the case Tuesday, Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said the individual was doing well; county officials said Thursday there were no updates on the person’s condition.

Experts: COVID-19 is the bigger risk

Infectious disease experts told The Sacramento Bee that, thus far, the spread of monkeypox has been linked to prolonged, skin-to-skin exposure. The public, they said, should be more concerned about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 than the risk of monkeypox.

“We’ve had eight cases so far in the United States of monkeypox,” said Dr. Michael Ben-Aderet, associate director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “And we can maybe compare that with more than a million people having died from COVID-19 in the U.S. So, while monkeypox is novel, it’s very interesting, and I think it has the potential to be a very serious illness, it doesn’t have the capability to cause the level of damage and death and destruction that we’ve seen with COVID over the past two years.”

So, why do experts consider COVID-19 a greater threat? Dr. Dean Blumberg, an infectious disease specialist at UC Davis Health said: “COVID is transmitted via the respiratory route., and so that’s something that anybody can get even with casual contact.”

In hospitals, medical personnel will exercise the same precautions with monkeypox as they do with COVID-19, using personal protective equipment and taking measures to limit the risk of the disease going airborne, Blumberg said, but there’s been no evidence so far that this will happen.

The current monkeypox outbreak has been traced to two rave parties in Europe, and CDC officials said Monday that a “notable fraction of cases” were occurring among gay and bisexual men. But Ben-Aderet noted that associating the disease with a specific group is “a very dangerous path for people to go down.”

“Viruses and bacteria, they don’t discriminate,” Ben-Aderet said. “They don’t have a specific type of people they like, and they’re happy to infect just about anybody. Just because a disease might be more prevalent in a certain population at first doesn’t mean that it can’t then infect another population.”

The current cases of monkeypox have been linked to a milder West African strain of the disease, Blumberg said, but there is a more virulent Central African strain that could spread more easily and increase the risk of death.

Vaccine available to fight virus

There is a vaccine for the disease, which is a cousin of smallpox and cowpox, Blumberg said. The smallpox vaccine has been proven 85% effective, and providing it in the initial days of exposure has been shown to prevent monkeypox or reduce the severity of symptoms. Like smallpox, monkeypox causes a rash, fever, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes.

“There’s a tendency for people to kind of act on fear with these diseases, and it’s understandable considering the amount of damage they can cause,” Ben-Aderet said. “Responding with fear is maybe not the right way to go about it. I think really what we need to do is just be cautious.”

Rather, he recommended: “Follow our public health recommendations, follow our guidance, follow the situation as it’s updated. Understand that things change understand that epidemics evolve and take the appropriate precautions.”

Monkeypox was first discovered in animals in 1958, but the first human case did not appear until 1970. The disease is extremely rare, the two physicians said, and neither had ever seen a case of it.

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