At a Santa Clara County town hall, public health officials said a person’s network is a major factor in contracting monkeypox.
On Thursday, they told the LGBTQ+ community in attendance that unlike COVID-19 — which is an airborne virus— monkeypox has more to do with individuals being in close contact with people within their social networks.
Public health officials said that the virus is disproportionately spreading among gay, trans and bisexual men and have prioritized this group for vaccination.
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There were 31 confirmed cases in county as of Thursday, said Dr. George Han, county deputy health officer. Due to limited supply, the county is offering vaccines by invitation or appointment to people who meet eligibility requirements. Residents must either have been in direct contact with an infected person, or be a sexually active member of the LGBTQ+ community. A full list of county requirements can be found here.
At the event Dr. Sarah Rudman, assistant health officer for the county, said that many details about the monkeypox virus are still unknown. However, she emphasized the importance of recognizing the symptoms because they can be misleading and often misdiagnosed.
“The infections can be missed early on because it can look like something else,” she said.
She also said there is a single antiviral treatment for those who are already infected, which the county is attempting to restock.
Several participants complained that testing results have been slow and asked what the county was doing to improve the turnaround time. Han said half a dozen commercial laboratories have come online, which will speed up the process.
Both doctors emphasized that vaccines are effective at preventing infection if residents receive them either before or soon after exposure — ideally within four days, but 14 days at the latest.
“You could still become infected,” Han said, “but the symptoms would be moderate.”
A vaccination clinic is scheduled for Sunday, Han said, with more planned in the following weeks as the county expects more shipments of the vaccine, although the lot sizes will be in line with current shipment levels.
“We vaccinated 196 people on Wednesday and hopefully we will double that number on Sunday,” he said.
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It spreads through skin-to-skin contact, as well as prolonged face-to-face interaction, Rudman said. Infected people tend to experience flu-like symptoms, swelling of the lymph nodes and a rash that includes bumps filled with fluid that often start in the genital area. It also tends not to require hospitalization, though it may take weeks to fully heal.
A lack of vaccines is the main barrier to inoculation. The federal government is the sole source of the Jynneos vaccine, which protects against monkeypox, and county officials said supplies remain limited. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department previously received 742 doses for the entire county, and a shipment this week brought only 886 additional doses. The county is partnering with large health care systems to funnel vaccines to their highest risk patients.
Partnerships with AACI, Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center, Project More and Q Corner have been instrumental in getting out the word and connecting priority populations to accurate information about prevention, testing and treatment, Han said, as well as directing eligible individuals to appointments at pop-up vaccination sites.
The county is scheduling vaccines only for people who are eligible. To learn more, click here.
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