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Update shows slow but steady rise of monkeypox in Travis County

Thursday, August 25, 2022 by Seth Smalley

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, there are just over 15,000 confirmed cases of the monkeypox virus in the United States, and about 1,280 of those cases are in Texas.

Travis County currently has 76 presumptive cases of monkeypox and 34 confirmed cases, according to Austin Public Health, bringing the total number of cases to 110. That’s up from last week’s nine confirmed and 79 presumptive cases. Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin’s medical director and health authority explained that presumptive cases all indicate initial positive test results, while confirmed cases are established through additional PCR testing.

Additionally, there are 300 suspected cases of monkeypox in the county, according to tips reported to Austin Public Health by health care providers, but they can sometimes be misidentified cases of chickenpox or syphilitic lesions, an APH official said.

Monkeypox is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact, prolonged face-to-face contact or even by touching surfaces contaminated by the virus.

“People are infectious with either the prodromal symptoms (fever, chills and aching) or the rash and should isolate until recovered,” Walkes said.

Official testing for the virus is conducted only after the rash develops.

To avoid contracting the virus, Walkes recommended regular hand-washing and cleaning frequently touched surfaces, along with common-sense measures like not sharing eating utensils, toys, bedding and clothing with those who are infected.

If you’ve touched a questionable surface, make sure you don’t touch your face or your eyes, Walkes said, adding, “Wearing a mask if you’re going to have prolonged face-to-face contact will help decrease the spread through the exchange of respiratory secretions that are infected.”

A team of epidemiologists is partnering with APH nurses to take calls, answer questions and identify patients who have been exposed to the virus.

Since only a limited number of vaccines are currently available, the county is prioritizing those who meet the qualifying criteria. Initially only those who had a sexual partner in the past 14 days diagnosed with monkeypox or those who had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days in a jurisdiction with known monkeypox were eligible to receive the vaccine. The criteria has since been updated to include any men who have sex with men and anyone who has had multiple or anonymous sex partners within the previous 21 days.

“Anyone who meets any of these criteria, or one of these criteria, can reach out to their health care providers to ascertain if they can get the vaccine there,” Walkes said.

Reach the monkeypox nurse line at (512) 972-5560.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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