With monkeypox cases on the rise in Europe, Canada and the US, state and local health experts on Thursday warned Nebraska residents and healthcare providers to be on the lookout for the virus and the rash it commonly causes.
Dr. Matthew Donahue, a Nebraska epidemiologist, said there have been more than 2,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox. in 36 countries where the disease does not normally occur. As of Thursday morning, 84 cases have been confirmed in 19 US states and territories. At the top of the list are New York and California with 16 cases each, and Illinois with 10. Nebraska’s next door neighbor reporting cases is Colorado with four.
Nebraska and neighboring Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota have not identified any cases so far. But at the current rate of identification in the US, he said health officials should expect to find it in Nebraska at some point. It may already be in the state.
“It’s not clear right now how big this monkeypox outbreak will be,” Donahue said. “So, to get ahead of that, we need people who have monkeypox-like rashes to tell their doctor about it so we can help you get tested.”
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According to him, despite the fact that the outbreak occurred after the COVID-19 pandemic, there are significant differences between them. The Nebraska Public Health Laboratory now has not only tests available, but also treatments and vaccines for monkeypox.
“We have more tools to stop this than we had at the start of COVID-19,” Donahue said.
And while researchers are still investigating the severity of monkeypox and its possible long-term consequences, there have been no deaths and few hospitalizations associated with the outbreak, unlike COVID-19. “That gives me great hope,” he said.
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“It’s important to talk about this so that those who may be at risk know to watch for symptoms of monkeypox,” he said. In addition, anyone who has had close contact with someone who is contagious is also at risk.
Dr. Jessica Jones an infectious disease physician from the Methodist Health System, said that monkeypox is currently spread through close, intimate personal contact with people with monkeypox, and especially through contact with one of the monkeypox outbreaks.
The virus can also be airborne during close-range interactions, typically 6 feet or less for three hours or more, she said.
Dr. Angela Hewlett, an infectious disease specialist at Nebraska Medicine, said monkeypox during this outbreak manifests differently than what has been documented in the past.
“In classic monkeypox, the virus has an incubation period of four to 21 days, but usually manifests itself in a week to 10 days,” said Hewlett, medical director of the Nebraska Division of Biological Defense. Typically, the patient has a fever, headache, and body aches before a rash develops a few days later. This classic rash begins as a red, flat rash on the body and face and progresses to the more typical smallpox rash.
However, during the current outbreak, patients may have one lesion, and sometimes more, and may only appear in the genital area, where they can be confused with other sexually transmitted diseases. Patients may have no other symptoms.
Jones said anyone who suspects they have monkeypox should self-isolate and call their primary care physician and take appropriate steps for an evaluation. Thus, the clinics are ready to examine this patient safely.
Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan, said head of infectious diseases at CHI Health and Creighton University.healthcare providers who suspect a case should contact the local health department, who can explain how to collect swabs and arrange testing at a public health laboratory.
Both the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department of Health have issued warnings to clinicians regarding monkeypox.
Vivekanandan said monkeypox vaccination is not recommended for the general public. But post-exposure vaccines can be helpful for those who have been exposed.
Donahue said the vaccines are available through the CDC from the national stockpile and can be quickly delivered to the state if needed.
“No one really knows how far this has already gone and how far it can go,” he said. “But if we have a chance to stop it, we need people to watch this rash, call their doctors and talk to them about this rash, and then do this test.”
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