Virginia has its first possible case of monkeypox in the state.
In a Thursday release, the Virginia Department of Health announced that the initial testing was conducted in its state lab, but the agency awaits official confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The patient is a woman from Northern Virginia who had recently traveled to a country in Africa. Officials said she is isolating at home, did not require hospitalization and “does not pose a risk to the public.”
Cases have been found in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, Virginia and Washington, per a CDC briefing on Thursday. There are nine total cases that have been identified nationwide.
The first U.S. resident to have a confirmed monkeypox case this year was a man from Boston who had recently traveled to Canada. That case was reported on May 18.
“Transmission requires close contact with someone with symptomatic monkeypox, and this virus has not shown the ability to spread rapidly in the general population,” said Dr. Colin Greene, state health commissioner. “VDH is monitoring national and international trends and has notified medical providers in Virginia to watch for monkeypox cases and report them to their local health district as soon as possible.”
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Earlier this week, President Joe Biden called monkeypox ”something that everybody should be concerned about,” especially if the virus were to continue to spread.
Unlike coronavirus, monkeypox is contagious only when an infected individual is symptomatic and is not easily spread from person to person, said Julia Murphy, the VDH’s state public health veterinarian.
In a Thursday interview, Murphy assured Virginians that there is no evidence monkeypox would have “pandemic potential” and said the state is prepared to handle the disease.
There are already vaccines available to target monkeypox, an illness that has been around for more than 50 years and is considered extremely rare — especially in the U.S.
The first monkeypox outbreak nationwide was in 2003 and was concentrated largely in the Midwest among people who had been in contact with sick prairie dogs.
The viral illness is transmitted when people have prolonged interactions with body fluids or contaminated materials such as clothing or bedsheets.
Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches and swelling of the lymph nodes. But one of the more distinguishing signs is the presence of a specific rash with raised red marks that start on a person’s face before spreading to the rest of the body and growing into pus-filled blisters.
The VDH estimates that the illness lasts anywhere from two to four weeks, with symptoms appearing seven to 14 days after being exposed.
The state agency recommends seeking medical care if residents have traveled to parts of Europe, central or west African countries where monkeypox cases have been reported; if they have had contact with someone who has a confirmed or presumed case of monkeypox; and if they are men who have sex with men, as multiple — but not all — cases identified have been among this group.
However, Murphy stressed that it’s not the only group of people who can contract the disease.
“It would be a disservice to simply attribute infections to that group of individuals because we are detecting illness in individuals who are not part of that group,” Murphy continued. “[We’re] early in this international investigation at this point, and we very well may learn much more in the coming days.”
Additional guidance about how monkeypox transmission looks in various communities and who might be at higher risk is expected to be available in upcoming days, Murphy said.
Last Saturday, the World Health Organization said in a statement that the spread of confirmed and suspected monkeypox cases with no direct travel links to places where the virus is endemic — such as countries in central and West Africa — is “atypical” and “a highly unusual event.”
Endemic means “consistently present but limited to a particular region,” according to Columbia University’s School of Public Health.
“Hence there is an urgent need to raise awareness about monkeypox and undertake comprehensive case finding and isolation [provided with supportive care], contact tracing and supportive care to limit further onward transmission,” wrote WHO officials.
Murphy said the VDH is working with multiple teams internally such as emergency preparedness, pharmacy and immunization personnel to provide any response support needed. The agency is also arranging webinars and outreach to health care providers to inform them of symptoms to watch out for.
As of Thursday night, the VDH has not found any additional monkeypox cases after conducting contact tracing.
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