Monkeypox is spreading in North Texas because of a vaccine shortage.
Dallas accounts for about 45% of all cases in the state, the highest share with 191 confirmed and 25 suspected cases as of Wednesday. In response, county health officials have expanded the qualifications for who can receive the monkeypox vaccine, but the number of available appointments has not kept up.
The anxiety surrounding the virus may seem reminiscent of the early days of COVID-19, but monkeypox does not spread as easily as the coronavirus and is rarely fatal.
“Currently, the risk to the general population is still relatively low,” said Dr. Pratith Kulkarni, Assistant Professor of Medicine – Infectious Diseases, Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s not on the same scale, not even close to the scale of COVID. It’s much less likely to turn into something like that.”
Here’s what medical experts have to say about the monkeypox virus:
What is monkey pox?
Monkeypox is a viral infection that causes symptoms similar to the now extinct chickenpox virus. It was discovered in animals used for laboratory experiments in the 1950s, and the first person appeared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before 1970. Since then, cases have mostly been reported in Central and West African countries, although there have been documented cases outside of the African continent.
What are the symptoms?
A week or two after infection, patients usually develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue.
A few days after the onset of fever, patients develop a rash on the face before spreading elsewhere. The sores can look like pimples or blisters and go through several stages, peeling and falling off. They can be very difficult.
This current outbreak looks a little different from past monkey infections, Kulkarni said. “It’s a little softer. Sometimes people have no other symptoms, such as fever, chills, headache, or fatigue. They only have rashes,” he said.
But this time the rash may be limited to the area where it spreads. According to Kulkarni, many patients report only genital damage.
People who suspect they have the virus should contact their doctor for more information on testing and isolation protocols.
How long will it last and what do I do?
The illness usually lasts two to four weeks. According to CDC guidelines, people with the virus should self-isolate until all sores have crusted over, fallen off, and a new layer of intact skin has formed. Scarring or discoloration of the skin may occur after scabbing.
How does the virus spread?
Monkeypox is primarily transmitted from animal to person or person-to-person through skin-to-skin contact with wounds, bodily fluids, and contaminated objects such as clothing and bedding.
Although the virus can be spread through respiratory droplets released when someone talks or breathes, Kulkarni said it is much more difficult to transmit it that way.
“You have to be close to someone for a long time. A passing interaction with someone, such as when you walk past them or something, is usually not considered sufficient to transmit the virus.
Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection?
“Not exactly in the classic sense, like syphilis or gonorrhea,” Kulkarni said.
Monkey pox can be spread through close contact.
“Sex by its very nature involves intimacy, so it’s part of intimacy,” he said. “So in this outbreak there is a disproportionate number of such close contacts and thus contagion.”
Most current cases are in men who have sex with men. Does the virus only affect the LGBTQ community?
“We’ve seen it in men who have sex in men’s communities, but as you can imagine it has a skin-to-skin component and spread, so it can spread to other people,” he said. Rick Ornberg, a family nurse practitioner at Prism Health, an HIV/AIDS health care organization in North Texas.
Monkeypox can affect anyone and it is transmitted through sexual contact.
“Several children have also been infected, people have acquired it through households and without sex,” Kulkarni said. “Of course, people who do not belong to the category of men who have sex with men can also get monkey disease. It’s just that it’s disproportionate in the community at the moment.”
Who is responsible for the vaccine?
Because monkeypox vaccine doses are limited, the two-shot vaccine regimen is currently only available to people who fall into one of the following categories:
- People who have had close, intimate, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has tested positive for monkeypox, or;
- Men 18 and older who had sex with men who had multiple or anonymous sexual partners in the past 14 days.
Where can I get the vaccine?
If you are eligible for the vaccine and live in Dallas County, you can make an appointment through Dallas County Health and Human Services by calling 972-692-2780.
Appointments will soon be offered by public health partners.