Monkeypox is spreading in North Texas amid a nationwide vaccine shortage.
Dallas accounts for about 45% of all cases in the state, the highest ratio with 191 confirmed cases 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 is not meeting demand.
Anxiety around the virus may seem reminiscent of the early days of COVID-19, but monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily as coronavirus and is rarely fatal.
“The danger to the general population at the current time remains relatively low,” said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, assistant professor of medicine – infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine. “It is not on the same scale, not even close, to the scale of COVID. The odds of it turning into something like that are much lower.”
This is what medical experts had to say about the monkeypox virus:
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a viral infection caused by a virus that causes symptoms similar to the now eradicated smallpox virus. It was discovered in animals used for laboratory experiments in the 1950s, and the first human case did not appear until 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, most cases have been reported from West and Central African countries, although cases have been documented outside of the African continent.
What are the symptoms?
About a week or two after infection, patients often develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, headaches, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue.
A few days after developing a fever, patients develop a rash, often starting on the face before spreading elsewhere. The lesions may look like pimples or blisters and go through several stages before crusting over and falling off. They can be very painful.
This current outbreak looks a bit different than previous monkeypox infections, Kulkarni said. “It’s a little softer. Sometimes people do not have other symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, or tiredness. They just have the rash,” he said.
And the rash this time may be more limited in where it spreads. Many patients only report lesions in the genital area, Kulkarni said.
People who suspect they have the virus should contact their doctor for more information on testing and isolation protocols.
How long does it last and what do I do?
The illness usually lasts two to four weeks. People infected with the virus should be isolated until all lesions have crusted over and fallen off and a new layer of intact skin has formed, according to CDC guidance. Scarring or skin discoloration may remain after the scabs have fallen off.
How is the virus spread?
Monkeypox spreads primarily from animal to person or person to person through skin-to-skin contact with lesions, bodily fluids, and contaminated items such as clothing and bedding.
While it’s possible for the virus to spread through respiratory droplets, which are released when someone speaks or breathes, Kulkarni said it’s much more difficult to transmit it that way.
“You have to be around someone for a long period of time. It’s not generally believed that a passing interaction with someone, walking past them or anything like that, is enough to spread the virus.
Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection?
“Not exactly in the classical sense, like syphilis or gonorrhea,” Kulkarni said.
Monkeypox can be spread through any close contact.
“By nature, sexual contact involves close contact, so it’s a subset of close contact,” he said. “It just so happens that in this outbreak there is a disproportionate amount of that type of close contact and therefore transmission occurs.”
Most current cases are in men who have sex with men. Does the virus only affect the LGBTQ community?
“We’ve seen it in the men who have sex with men community, but as you can imagine, because there’s a skin-to-skin component to this and the spread with that, it can spread to anyone else.” said. Rick Ornberg, a family nurse practitioner with Prism Health North Texas, an HIV/AIDS healthcare organization.
Monkeypox can affect anyone and does not have to spread through sex.
“Even some children have gotten it, people have gotten it through household transmission and without sexual contact,” Kulkarni said. “Certainly people who are not in the category of men who have sex with men can also get monkeypox. It’s just that it’s disproportionately in the community right now.”
Who qualifies for the vaccine?
Due to the limited doses of monkeypox vaccine available, only people who fall into one of the following categories can currently receive the two-vaccine regimen:
- People who had close, intimate, skin-to-skin contact with someone who tested positive for monkeypox, or;
- Men over the age of 18 who have sex with men who have had multiple or anonymous sexual partners in the last 14 days.
Where can I get the vaccine?
If you qualify 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.
Coming soon, community health partners Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment and Prism Health North Texas will also offer appointments.