On Thursday, Aug. 4, the U.S. government declared a health emergency over the outbreak of the monkeypox virus. However, as of early this week, there were no reported cases of monkeypox in Cheshire or in the Chesprocott Health District’s area of coverage, officials confirmed.
Approximately 48 cases had been reported in Connecticut overall as of Aug. 9, a number that Kate Glendon, public health specialist for Chesprocott, said remains low but is still “concerning” to health officials.
“We are monitoring monkeypox,” Glendon told The Herald. “It is definitely a health concern. … The way we are addressing this is by educating the public … and if we feel it is growing to a higher level of concern, then we will take further steps to inform the public.”
Monkeypox is an infectious disease caused by an orthopoxvirus, a “disease agent” responsible for other such illnesses as smallpox, cowpox and others. However, according to Glendon, the illness has not proven to be fatal to the overwhelming majority of those who contract it, with 98% of infected individuals surviving and most deaths involving those with previous illnesses and conditions.
If exposed to the virus, symptoms can appear anywhere from 4 to 17 days afterwards, and the infected person is asked to isolate for two to four weeks.
The most common symptoms of the virus are rashes or lesions developing on the body, which can often be very painful. Glendon explained that, unlike COVID-19, an airborne respiratory virus, monkeypox cannot be transmitted by simply being “next to someone” who is infected.
“Travel isn’t a concern. Distance (from another person) isn’t a concern,” she said. “This is not something where wearing a mask is necessary.”
According to the CDC, the virus is spread through direct person-to-person contact, whether sexual in nature or not, or by respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex.
As of now, the most vulnerable demographic appears to be members of the LGBTQ+ community, as the highest rate of spread is being seen from male-to-male contact. However, Glendon stressed that anyone can contract the virus, and the public health community is looking to provide necessary protective gear, such as gloves and gowns, to those who may be exposed more frequently.
“We are worried about our hotel workers,” said Glendon, explaining that the virus could be contracted by touching materials that have been in contact with an infected individual. “We are worried about our health care workers. So that’s what we are focusing on now, getting them the (items) they need to stay safe.”
As far as those who may be the most at-risk are concerned, Glendon stated that it is “not necessary” to cut oneself off from others, but since the majority of those infected thus far have engaged in skin-to-skin contact with individuals, it’s important to have a “health conversation” with potential intimate partners before engaging in any such behavior.
“We really just want people to take precautions,” she said. “Our goal right now is just to educate the public.”
One of the initial challenges for public health officials, Glendon stated, has been conducting contact tracing for individuals who test positive for the virus. The goal, she stated, is to find people who have been exposed and provide them with medication that can help with the illness.
“Because some people may not know everyone whom they’ve come in contact with, or may be uncomfortable talking about such things, the hardest part is finding the contacts and getting them the prophylactic,” said Glendon. “We are trained to have those conversations. Everything is confidential, so hopefully people feel more comfortable.”
Rashes and lesions usually clear up within a few weeks after symptoms arrive, and while some also experience everything from fever to chills to fatigue, many will not. However, Glendon stated that during the time where symptoms are showing, it is imperative that individuals stay away from others — even their pets — as the virus could be spread to them.
“If (we have a case) of monkeypox in our area, we are ready to go,” said Glendon. “We don’t have any cases as of now, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have a case tomorrow or the next day.”