monkeypox

As of Aug. 31, there are 339 monkeypox cases in Virginia.

With the monkeypox virus on the rise — both globally and across the country — JMU, local and state health departments are working to combat the virus and inform the community about the disease.

Since early May 2022, cases of monkeypox — a rare disease from the smallpox family transmitted from animals to humans — have been reported in countries where the disease isn’t regularly found, or non-endemic, including Europe and North America, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While the WHO said monkeypox is most common in West and Central Africa, this is the first time monkeypox cases have been reported simultaneously in non-endemic and endemic countries in dissimilar geographical areas.

WHO declared monkeypox as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) July 23. At that point, monkeypox had spread to over 75 countries with more than 16,000 cases reported, according to Medical News Today. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Aug. 30, there are 49,974 global monkeypox cases in 99 different countries: 49,531 cases in locations that haven’t historically reported monkeypox and 443 cases in locations that have historically reported monkeypox. In the U.S, there are 18,417 cases as of Aug. 30.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), there are 339 current cases in Virginia as of Aug. 31. and 11 hospitalizations. In the Northwest region of Virginia, there are six cases in the district of Blue Ridge — one of the lowest regions  in the state, with the Northern region of Virginia reporting the highest number of cases at 202.

Here at JMU, the University Health Center (UHC) has services available for students, faculty and staff regarding monkeypox. According to its website, any student who’s concerned they’ve been exposed to or have monkeypox can be evaluated at the UHC. Additionally, the website says the UHC can coordinate testing for monkeypox through LabCorp and help coordinate treatment through consultation with the Central Shenandoah Health Department (CSHD) and the CDC.

Ginny Cramer, JMU’s associate director of communications and deputy spokesperson, said in an email to The Breeze that staff at the UHC are currently undergoing additional training in accordance with the VDH guidelines to deal with the virus. Cramer said JMU is also working with local and state partners, including the VDH, for information sharing since each agency monitors the situation on a local and statewide level and that working with these partners also allows JMU to be aware of mitigation strategies surrounding the monkeypox health emergency. 

Additionally, Tim Miller, vice president for student affairs, said the Stop the Spread dashboard used for the COVID-19 pandemic will now also be used to provide information on monkeypox and any other outbreaks moving forward.

Monkeypox vs. COVID-19

With the recent decrease in COVID-19 cases across the U.S., many have been left wondering if there are any similarities between COVID-19 and the monkeypox virus. Dr. Laurie Forlano, deputy director of the Office of Epidemiology from the VDH spoke with The Breeze via email about distinctions and differences between the two viruses.

“Monkeypox and COVID-19 are very different viruses and have different considerations about their spread and how we prevent transmission,” Forlano said.

Forlano said monkeypox is mostly spread by close contact with an infected person, which could include touching the rash or skin lesions of an infected person. Although less common, monkeypox can also be spread via contaminated items — such as bed linens or towels used by an infected person — or can occur through prolonged, face-to-face contact, Forlano said.

Additionally, Forlano said an important distinction between monkeypox and COVID-19 is that monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms start until “the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed,” whereas with COVID-19, transmission can occur before symptoms are present or if the infected person is asymptomatic. According to the CDC, symptoms of monkeypox can include a rash on or near the genitals, anus, hands, feet, chest, face or mouth; fever; chills; swollen lymph nodes; exhaustion; muscle aches and backaches; headaches and respiratory symptoms such as a sore throat, nasal congestion or cough. Forlano said monkeypox symptoms typically last 2-4 weeks. 

While the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 was one medical science  “never seen before,” Forlano said, that’s not the case for monkeypox. 

“With the monkeypox virus, the situation is much different,” Forlano said. “It is a virus we’ve encountered before. We know how it’s spread and what to do to counter that spread.”

Likewise, Forlano said when COVID-19 first “burst into the global stage,” there wasn’t readily available testing, vaccines to prevent it or effective treatment, but for monkeypox, there is.

“We have safe and effective vaccines against the virus,” Forlano said. “We have tests to confirm if a person is infected and we have safe and effective treatment options. Although for some patients the disease course can be uncomfortable and may be painful, in most cases it fully resolves without treatment.”

According to the UHC, a limited supply of the two-dose monkeypox vaccine, JYNNEOS, is being offered to individuals in Virginia who have an increased likelihood of becoming exposed to monkeypox due to certain risk factors. JMU students can complete an interest form for the vaccine and the CSHD will begin vaccinations for those who are at a higher risk of monkeypox exposure. After completing the form, students will be contacted by the CSHD when an appointment is available. 

On Aug. 25, the VDH expanded eligibility criteria for individuals seeking the monkeypox vaccination in Virginia. According to the VDH, the expanded criteria for vaccinations include: individuals of any sexual orientation or gender who’ve had anonymous or multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks; sex workers of any sexual orientation or gender; and staff of any sexual orientation or gender at establishments where sexual activity occurs. 

As of Aug. 23, the VDH had received 15,282 vials of the JYNNEOS vaccine, redistributed 8,899 vials to the state’s 35 health districts and administered 5,875 vials through local health departments and other healthcare providers, according to its website.

Misconceptions

As heard and seen in the media, there’s been misconceptions that individuals in the LGBTQ community are the only people who can contract monkeypox. According to the CDC, current data suggests gay, bisexual and men who have sex with other men make up the majority of cases in the current monkeypox outbreak. However, both the CDC and Forlano reiterated that anyone — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — who’s been in close, personal contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk. 

“While this level of monkeypox activity is unexpected, the risk to most people is low,” Forlano said.

Additionally, Forlano said individuals that have sex with multiple or anonymous partners is a “major risk factor in this outbreak.”

“Avoiding these activities can reduce one’s risk of catching or spreading monkeypox,” Forlano said. “Monkeypox does not spread from person to person from walking past someone who is infected or through casual conversation with someone who is infected.”

The Breeze contacted the department of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) at JMU for an interview regarding misconceptions and stigmatisms surrounding the monkeypox virus, but weren’t granted the request before deadline. 

Kasey Trapuzzano contributed to this report.

Contact Kingston Thomas at thoma2ks@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.