Alaska’s first known case of monkeypox was reported Friday in an Anchorage resident.
A person whose symptoms started about a week ago and who tested positive yesterday does not need to be hospitalized and is self-isolating at home, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska State Epidemiologist.
The first case of the virus in Alaska is part of a global outbreak that has spread to thousands of people in dozens of countries within weeks, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency last week.
On Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 5,000 cases in 47 US states.
Despite the rapid spread of the global epidemic, McLaughlin urged Alaskans not to panic.
“For the vast majority of Alaskans, the risk of monkeypox is very low,” he said in a phone interview Friday.
The current strain’s fatality rate also appears to be extremely low: There have been no confirmed cases of monkeypox in the US, and more than 99% of patients survive, according to the CDC.
The Anchorage resident who tested positive had no recent travel but was in close contact with someone who had recently traveled outside of Alaska, the state and municipal health departments said in a joint statement.
Those who have been in close contact with this person will be warned and vaccinated. Alaska and Anchorage state health officials say vaccines are not currently available or recommended to the general public.
Monkeypox is a disease caused by infection with the smallpox virus, a member of the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, as well as the recently identified Alaskapox disease found in the Fairbanks area.
[Previously: What is monkeypox, and what are Alaska health officials doing to prepare for its arrival?]
According to McLaughlin, the illness usually begins with flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle and back pain, chills and “general fatigue” within a week or two of being sick.
Within one to three days, the patient develops a rash that starts on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, but not always.
The rash usually starts as a red, flat patch that turns into razor-shaped bumps and then pustules with a cloudy appearance. The illness usually lasts two to four weeks.
Although monkeypox does not spread easily between humans, transmission can occur through skin-to-skin contact with human body fluids or through monkeypox lesions; through contact with contaminated items such as bedding and clothing; or through prolonged face-to-face contact.
Anyone can get or spread monkeypox, but the majority of cases in the US have been among men who have sex with men.
The risk of transmission in this community is highest among people who have multiple sexual partners or have anonymous sex, McLaughlin says.
“Monkey pox is nowhere near as effective as COVID-19,” he said. “It actually requires close contact for a long time.”
Monkeypox vaccine and treatment have been in short supply around the world, but McLaughlin said he is working with federal partners who control national stockpiles to ensure vaccines and treatments are available in the state.
The state currently has about 100 doses of the vaccine, and McLaughlin said he has been notified by the CDC that more than 400 additional doses have been allocated to Alaska.
Due to limited supply, only people with close contact with a confirmed case are eligible to receive the vaccine. McLaughlin said he hopes that will change as more vaccine becomes available.
“Ideally, we want more vaccines for Alaska and the nation,” McLaughlin said, including for men who have sex with men.
The state health department is also communicating with health care providers and the general public about ways of transmission, what signs and symptoms to look for, and how to test and treat infected people.
“If people are experiencing symptoms of monkeypox or have a new, unexplained rash, the best thing to do is to stay home and contact a health care provider immediately,” says Dr. Anchorage Health Department Medical Officer Brian Piltz said in a written statement Friday.
“This will allow us to quickly identify close contacts who are eligible for treatment and vaccination,” he said.