As the summer season begins with an increase in travel and major events and gatherings, Bay Area health officials have urged people to protect themselves against the simian pox virus, better known as "monkeypox," which is spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact and bodily fluids, such as through crowded environments or sexual contact.
While, to date, there are no reported cases of monkeypox in San Mateo County, the alert from nine health jurisdictions comes as cases, which appear on people as distinctive rashes and sores that may look like blisters or pimples, continue to appear in the Bay Area, the nation and the world.
Monkeypox is not new, but this is the first time the virus has spread in so many countries at the same time.
Most cases of monkeypox resolve on their own, although they can be severe. The disease often begins with flu-like symptoms before a rash appears and may last 2 to 4 weeks.
It should be noted that a post-exposure vaccine is available through health care providers.
Unlike COVID-19, which is easily spread through the air, the risk of monkeypox to the general public is currently low unless they engage in higher risk behaviors.
Having sex with multiple sexual partners can increase a person's risk of becoming infected when monkeypox is spreading in the community.
In light of this, health authorities have called for vigilance in crowded indoor spaces where people have close skin-to-skin contact, sex, kissing and close breathing. The virus can also be spread through shared clothing or bedding.
"Even with the low public risk of monkeypox, it is important to watch for signs of infection," said Scott Morrow, M.D., San Mateo County health officer. "Anyone experiencing symptoms should stay home and contact their health care provider immediately."
Many of the cases currently appearing are within networks of self-identified gay and bisexual men, trans people and men who have sex with men, they said.
While it is true that people in such networks are currently most at risk, people of any sexual orientation or gender identity can become infected and spread smallpox.
"Public awareness is important as the disease could spread within potentially larger groups or networks of people," San Mateo County said in a statement.
Bay Area health officials urge the media, government officials and the community at large to avoid stigmatizing a particular group or individual for monkeypox, but rather to support those most at risk and prevent others from becoming complacent.
There are other contagious diseases that can cause skin rashes or lesions. For example, syphilis and shingles are much more common than monkeypox which may appear similar and should also be treated.
Protection against monkeypox
To protect against the disease, health authorities ask you to consider covering exposed skin in dense indoor crowds, as well as not sharing bedding or clothing with others; talk to close physical contacts about your general health, such as recent rashes or sores; and be vigilant if you travel to countries where outbreaks are occurring.
To protect others if you have symptoms, particularly a rash compatible with monkeypox, or if you have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox, it is important to stay home if you feel sick, contact a health care provider as soon as possible for an evaluation, and avoid skin-to-skin or close contact with others, including sexual contact, until a medical evaluation has been completed.
In addition, you are called upon to inform sexual partners of any symptoms you are experiencing, as well as cover the rash with clean, dry, loose-fitting clothing, wear a well-fitting mask, and if contacted by public health officials, answer their confidential questions to help protect others who may have been exposed.
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