Monkeypox: A local health emergency

By The Health News Team | September 12, 2022
Illustration of monkeypox

In August, the County of San Diego declared a “local health emergency” in response to monkeypox, a viral infection caused by the monkeypox virus, which is in the same family of viruses as the one that causes smallpox. However, this doesn’t mean San Diegans are at higher risk of contracting the virus.

According to San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairperson Nathan Fletcher, declaring monkeypox a local health emergency will simply allow local public health officials and agencies to align their efforts with the approach taken by the State of California. It will also “strengthen vaccination, prevention, education and treatment initiatives in San Diego,” he says.

The emerging threat of monkeypox
Until recently, monkeypox was rare, with most cases seen in Central and West African countries. However, many recent cases have been linked to international travel in non-African countries; events with activities where people have close, sustained skin-to-skin contact; and among men who have sex with men. So far, most people with monkeypox have been adults.

“Since the disease is found to be spreading among a certain group of people and can especially be spread though physical contact among people who have new partners or multiple partners, then it seems to be reasonable to be warning the community to be cautious,” says Dr. Kaveh Bahmanpour, a board-certified family medicine and geriatric medicine doctor with Sharp Community Medical Group. “However, there is no need for panic among the general population.”

Preventing the spread of monkeypox
Unlike COVID-19, which can be spread through respiratory secretions, Dr. Bahmanpour says monkeypox is more often transmitted through direct contact with the rash or with fluid content that might remain on clothes. Therefore, he explains, “monkeypox can be better controlled by awareness and preventable measures.”

Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are encouraged to practice caution with new partners. They should ask about recent illnesses or rashes, and exchange contact information with partners to enable follow-up, if needed.

A monkeypox vaccine is available for people most at risk, including people exposed to someone with monkeypox infection and people with compromised immune systems, who are at greater risk of developing severe disease if they contract the virus. However, according to Dr. Bahmanpour, most people do not need vaccinations due to the lower risk of transmission outside of specific populations.

Additional monkeypox precautions, which should be practiced by all populations, include:

  • Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.

  • Do not touch the rash or scabs of a person with monkeypox.

  • Do not kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with someone with monkeypox.

  • Do not share eating utensils or cups with a person with monkeypox.

  • Do not handle or touch the bedding, towels or clothing of a person with monkeypox.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

“If you are concerned about your risk of monkeypox infection, it is important to look out for any new skin lesions, which are similar to chickenpox lesions,” says Dr. Bahmanpour. “You should also check the skin of any new partner you might have close, skin-to-skin contact with and talk with your doctor about vaccination.”

The County of San Diego is holding vaccination events at local clinics for eligible people ages 18 and older. Appointments can be made through the My Turn vaccination site and you can learn more by calling 211 or texting “COSD MONKEYPOX” to 468-311.

Get monkeypox vaccine information and access to resources from Sharp.

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