The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency last week, reflecting a growing concern about rising case counts of the virus.
As of noon today, there have been a total of 10,392 confirmed monkeypox cases in the US. Here in Wisconsin, we have 32 confirmed cases, with six of those in Dane County. Monkeypox has been on the rise, with the first instance in Wisconsin reported on July 1st and case counts slowly but surely climbing since.
So what is monkeypox? I posed that question to Dr. Ajay Sethi, Professor of Population Health Sciences at UW-Madison.
“Monkeypox is a virus. It’s a virus that’s closely related to smallpox, which we haven’t seen in the world for a long time. It’s a virus that is spread by skin-to-skin contact, especially when that contact is prolonged. It’s not the most infectious virus but it can spread between people, when one person has an infection – perhaps not even knowing it – and they give that to another person. The tell-tale symptom of monkeypox is a rash. That rash is like a blister. From that blister you get a lot of shedding of virus, and so if you have skin-to-skin contact that virus can go from one person to the other, causing infection in another person and spreading as such.”
Vaccines are available. Public Health of Madison and Dane County opened a vaccination clinic on August 1st and has administered about 200 vaccinations in the two weeks it has been open. Vaccinations are appointment-only, as supply is limited.
For more on Public Health’s efforts to address monkeypox, I spoke with Morgan Finke, spokesperson for Public Health Madison & Dane County.
She says vaccinations are key to containing the spread.
“I think vaccine is a big part of it. The smallpox vaccines do work on monkeypox, so if someone has a confirmed high-risk exposure the smallpox vaccine can be given within four days to help prevent disease. It can be given as far as 14 days from exposure and still be effective, but we consider it to be the sooner the better in terms of getting that vaccine to that individual.”
If you live in Dane County, and are eligible for a vaccine, you can call (608) 243-0556 to schedule a vaccination appointment.
Vaccinations have been limited. Wisconsin has about 6,000 allocated doses of the vaccine, and Dane County is administering 150 a week.
In order to maximize supply, the state health department has announced they will make an alternative method available: a shot that uses ⅕ of the vaccine and administers it between layers of the skin rather than deeper into the muscle.
Dr. Sethi stresses that this is safe.
“There is a shortage in supply of vaccines, and you want to keep up with the spread of this virus so that more people can benefit from the vaccine that exists. There is precedent for lowering the dose of vaccines and altering the route of administration. So it’s not a wild idea. It’s grounded in proof-of-concept from the past.”
When in doubt, both Dr. Sethi and Ms. Finke suggested talking with your primary care doctor. Vaccinations can be given after developing symptoms, and a doctor can prescribe antivirals or pain medication to help with symptoms of the virus.