What to know about monkeypox in Summit County as it’s declared a global health emergency
Monkeypox numbers continue to climb in the state of Colorado and around the country.
The World Health Organization has officially declared the spread of monkeypox a global health emergency, and there have been 155 cases identified in Colorado since May 2022, 60 of which have been in Denver.
There has been one reported case in Summit County, which was brought to the attention of health officials on Thursday, July 28. Lauren Gilbert, the nurse manager at Summit County Public Health, said as of Friday, Aug. 12, there have not been any more reported cases in the county.
“Right now, the state is kind of helping us get prepared for additional cases that we may experience in our counties by building some capacity, helping us learn — with this specific disease — more detailed information for procedures for case investigation, testing and vaccination,” Gilbert said.
Colorado is not currently under a state of emergency, she added. A state of emergency, Gilbert explained, is a circumstance that is self-declared by a state to receive additional resources from the federal government.
How does monkeypox compare to COVID-19?
Gilbert said, in terms of preparedness, two things are different between monkeypox and COVID-19: the first is that a treatment is already identified, and the second is that a vaccine has already been developed.
“Those are things that we have on our side,” Gilbert said.
In addition, Gilbert pointed out that COVID-19 and monkeypox are transmitted very differently.
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, while monkeypox is a viral disease. It is much harder to spread monkeypox, Gilbert added, and the mortality rate is much lower than COVID-19. According to Gilbert, as of Friday, Aug. 12, there were four hospitalizations in Colorado for monkeypox and no deaths in the U.S.
“We are definitely not seeing deaths anywhere near like when COVID was new,” Gilbert said. “The other thing is COVID was a completely novel virus, whereas this one is not new.”
Either way, Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said she wants to see public awareness of the viral disease.
“Be aware of what the signs and symptoms are,” she said, while also adding that if there is a concern about whether or not someone might have it, they should go to the doctor.
Monkeypox will most likely show up as a rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s monkeypox “Signs and Symptoms” webpage. Because many rashes look similar, however, Gilbert advised — in the situation of a perceived case — to make an appointment with a medical expert so the rash can be identified correctly.
She added that people should be able to get tested in Summit County through their health care provider.
While waiting for an appointment, Gilbert said people should isolate and wear a covering over any lesions, which can look like a long sleeve shirt or long pants. She also mentioned that a mask is recommended, as monkeypox lesions have shown up in the mouths of infected people.
One aspect about monkeypox Gilbert made very clear is that monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease or sexually transmitted infection.
“It’s a virus that’s spread by skin-to-skin contact,” Gilbert said. “So that’s why it might appear like that.”
What about vaccinations?
The federal government is not equipped, at the moment, to vaccinate the target population it had intended to, Gilbert said. Therefore, there is a change in how vaccines are going to be administered.
GIlbert said in the state of Colorado there are only two categories of people being vaccinated at the moment.
The first group includes people who have already been exposed to the virus, who are called “post exposure prophylaxis” folks. The second group includes people who have “risk factors” or “experiences,” Gilbert said, that make them more likely to contract the virus, and they are called “expanded post exposure prophylaxis” folks.
As of Tuesday, vaccines are only offered in Denver and at different locations of the Tri-County Health Department.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, Pogue said she has “complete faith” in the county’s health care professionals and infrastructure.
She added that monkeypox is something, as a tourist community, Summit County should be concerned about. However, “We’re not as concerned about monkeypox as we were with coronavirus,” Pogue said.
As much as possible, Pogue said the county is trying to figure out what to do as the situation unfolds.
More information about monkeypox or vaccination criteria can be found on Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s monkeypox webpage.
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