Monkeypox cases have been rising all across the country, and Washington is no exception. Within the state, there are a total of 411 reported cases, with 331 from King County alone. On August 19, the county declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.
Now, with students heading back to college and secondary schools, the risk of spreading the monkeypox virus has also grown.
Dr. Edward Leonard, an infectious disease specialist at Overlake Medical Center & Clinics, said the biggest risk of exposure to monkeypox for students is through prolonged physical contact.
“The most important aspect for protecting themselves is to minimize the amount of physical contact between them,” Leonard said in an email to the Sammamish Independent.
He recommends that students refrain from sharing clothes with each other and also have “candid conversations about health status [with partners] before engaging in sex” to prevent the virus from spreading.
Besides these precautions, practices of good hygiene that prevent the spread of other diseases also apply to monkeypox. According to Dr. Leonard, that includes regularly washing your hands with soap and water. When coughing or sneezing, do so into your sleeve if not wearing a mask. And when wearing a mask, cough or sneeze into the mask and then replace it with a new one.
He added that it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of monkeypox so you can seek medical attention immediately. The infection can cause flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, cough, sweating, and muscle aches. However, the most telling sign are skin lesions, which normally occur after other symptoms have already begun.
As of now, it seems that most patients will recover from the infection without any major long-term effects.
“I don’t think there are long-term effects we know of thus far, but some of the social stigma related to monkeypox could be problematic for patients socially,” he said.
Dr. Leonard said it is unlikely that the monkeypox outbreak will become a pandemic like COVID-19 as it mainly passes through prolonged physical contact.
There are currently two vaccines for monkeypox, JYNNEOS and ACAM2000. The former is a two-dose vaccine and the latter a single dose. Currently the CDC is not recommending widespread vaccination against the virus. However, they do suggest that those who have been exposed to monkeypox or are at a greater risk of getting it should get vaccinated.
“I do anticipate more cases in the near future, but hopefully with the availability of the vaccine and antiviral along with greater education of patients we will be able to flatten out the curve of cases,” he said.