Monkeypox and California’s State of Emergency
A lot of the news surrounding monkeypox reads something like, “Hey, don’t be alarmed, but we are in a state of emergency.” It can be tricky to read between the press conferences and media lines, but monkeypox is cause for concern and we need to be paying close attention because the numbers don’t lie. This is a disease that is highly disruptive and makes its victims’ lives miserable while infected.
Some of you may recall monkeypox first being reported in the United States in 2003 when a 3-year-old girl in Wisconsin was hospitalized with a mysterious disease –a disease that would spread to 70 other individuals. That virus outbreak, traced to pet prairie dogs, impacted a total of six Midwestern states.
The good news is that this is a preventable disease. However, it is spreading rapidly in the U.S. Our nation makes up 4.25% of the world’s population, yet we are presently recording 35% of the confirmed infections among the 89 countries reporting worldwide. At the time of writing, the U.S. has confirmed 11,777 monkeypox cases, of which California makes up 1,945.
At the beginning of this month, Gov. Newsom declared a state of emergency in California to boost the state’s vaccination efforts against the rising cases of monkeypox. Los Angeles County and the federal government have also issued emergency declarations. This should help expand our vaccination efforts and greatly boost coordination between agencies at various levels to help stop the spread of the virus.
It is absolutely appropriate that we are escalating the issue with state of emergency responses across government agencies because a unified, highly responsive system can help with early detection and nip this in the bud.
If we’ve learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that we need to get ahead of outbreaks with mitigation efforts, especially to protect communities that are disproportionally impacted. And right now, this virus is afflicting our LGBTQIA+ communities at staggering rates. Our hard lessons learned during the HIV/AIDS pandemic remind us that infectious disease is a matter of public health, and there is no room for stigmatization when it comes to meeting the needs of communities that are hard hit by traumatic events.
What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that is related to smallpox. Symptoms usually start within 21 days of exposure and the illness lasts two to four weeks. While patients can recover with symptom management, the experience is extremely unpleasant with flu-like symptoms in addition to painful rashes that look like pimples or blisters, which can appear on the face, inside the mouth and other parts of the body, depending on how the virus spreads. There is no FDA-approved treatment for monkeypox. You can learn more on the CDC site.
How does monkeypox spread? The virus spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact with someone who is symptomatic. While men who are intimate with men are currently in the highest risk pool, more women and children are testing positive. Those in congregate settings, such as shelters, group homes, schools and daycares, could be more vulnerable to exposure. It can also spread to the fetus during pregnancy. It is important to remember that monkeypox is exclusive to no single community.
Research is underway to better understand its transmission, but we must remember that we are all potential hosts.
How to protect yourself and others: The CDC recommends avoiding close contact or sharing objects, such as utensils or cups, with people who have monkeypox or have a rash that looks like monkeypox. Abstain or practice safer sex and be vigilant at social gatherings per these CDC guidelines. Wash hands regularly – before eating, after contact sports, swimming in public pools, etc. Those who have an unexplained rash or symptom should avoid close contact with others until they have been checked by a health care provider.
An infected person is considered contagious until the lesions have crusted and shed away, revealing a fresh layer of skin. Though the virus has a low fatality rate, it can be a serious health issue, sometimes requiring hospitalization.
If you think you have monkeypox: Those who think they have monkeypox should reach out to their health care provider to get tested. They can dial 2-1-1 if they do not have a provider. Additionally, people who have developed a rash can access services at LA Public Health’s sexual health clinic.
Please do not seek medical attention at vaccination clinics and walk-up sites.
Regarding vaccinations in Los Angeles County: While Los Angeles County’s pre-registration for the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine is momentarily paused, it should open again as federal supply meets the demand in Los Angeles County. Those who have already signed up should receive a text notification on the next steps to get the vaccine. For updates from the County on pre-registration and vaccines, please sign-up with your email at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/monkeypox.
LA County’s priority will be to maximize the administration of the first dose of the vaccine to people at higher risk for monkeypox. At this time, people can sign up to get vaccinated in Los Angeles County if the following criteria apply:
You are a gay or bisexual man, or a transgender person 18 years of age and older, who had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days, including engaging in survival and/or transactional sex (e.g., sex in exchange for shelter, food and other goods and needs).
Jynneos is the only FDA-approved monkeypox vaccine and is administered in two doses at 28 days apart.
Health care workers: According to the CDC, health care workers who care for a monkeypox patient should be alert to the development of symptoms within the 21-day period after the last date of care. For those who have had unprotected exposure, it is not necessary to be excluded from work duties, but there should be active surveillance for symptoms, including temperature checks twice a day, for the 21 days following the last exposure. Check the CDC for additional recommendations. Again, vigilance is key.
We can beat monkeypox as we’ve eradicated smallpox. If we all do our part to stay safe and minimize the spread of the virus, we can curb its impact on our communities and prevent it from becoming endemic. Working together and being informed Californians can help us triumph over monkeypox. The last thing we want is for this current strain to evolve into a bolder, more contagious, possibly deadly, variant.
And as we increasingly appreciate that our neighbor’s health is our health, that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us, we should strive for a robust health care system that can serve us during pandemics. Please join me in taking precautions, spreading awareness and helping one another.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, questions and general concerns. You can reach my district office at (818) 558-3043 or by email at Assemblymember.Friedman@Assembly.ca.gov.
Laura Friedman represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.