Monkeypox is spreading in North Texas amid a nationwide vaccine shortage.
Dallas accounts for about 45% of all cases in the state, the highest share with 191 confirmed cases and 25 suspected cases as of Wednesday. In response, county health officials have expanded the qualifications for who can get the monkeypox vaccine, but the number of available appointments is not keeping up with demand.
Anxiety around the virus may seem reminiscent of the early days of COVID-19, but monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily as the coronavirus and is rarely fatal.
“The danger to the general population at this time is still relatively low,” said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, assistant professor of medicine – infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s not on the same scale – not even close – to the scale of COVID. The chances of it turning into something like this are much lower.
Here’s what else medical experts had to say about the monkeypox virus:
What is monkey pox?
Monkeypox is a viral infection caused by a virus that causes symptoms similar to the now eradicated smallpox virus. It was discovered in animals used for laboratory experiments in the 1950s, and the first human case did not appear until 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, cases have been widely reported in West and Central African countries, although there have been documented cases outside the African continent.
What are the symptoms?
About one to two weeks after being infected, patients typically develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue.
A few days after developing a fever, patients have a rash that often starts on the face before spreading elsewhere. The lesions may look like pimples or blisters, and they go through several stages before crusting over and falling off. They can be very painful.
This current outbreak looks a little different from past monkeypox infections, Kulkarni said. “It’s a little softer. Sometimes people don’t have other symptoms like fever, chills, headache, or feeling tired. They only have the rash,” he said.
And the rash this time may be more limited to where it spreads. Many patients only report lesions in the genital area, Kulkarni said.
People who suspect they have the virus should contact their doctor for more information on testing and isolation protocols.
How long does it last and what should I do?
The illness usually lasts two to four weeks. Those infected with the virus should self-isolate until all lesions have scabbed over and fallen off and a new layer of intact skin has formed, according to CDC guidelines. Scarring or discoloration of the skin may remain after the scabs fall off.
How does the virus spread?
Monkeypox is transmitted primarily from animal to animal or person to person through skin-to-skin contact with lesions, body fluids, and contaminated objects such as clothing and bedding.
While it’s possible the virus is spread through respiratory droplets, which are released when someone speaks or breathes, Kulkarni said it’s much more difficult to transmit it that way.
“You have to be close to someone for a long time. A passing interaction with someone, when you walk by them or something, is generally not considered sufficient to transmit the virus.
Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection?
“Not exactly in the classic sense, like syphilis or gonorrhea,” Kulkarni said.
Monkeypox can be spread through any close contact.
“By nature, sexual contact involves close contact, so it’s a subset of close contact,” he said. “It just so happens that in this epidemic there is a disproportionate amount of this type of close contact and therefore transmission.”
Most current cases involve men who have sex with men. Does the virus only affect the LGBTQ community?
“We’ve seen it in the community of men who have sex with men, but, as you can imagine, because there’s skin-to-skin contact and spread with that, it can spread to anyone else,” said Rick Ornberg, a family nurse practitioner at Prism Health North Texas, an HIV/AIDS healthcare organization.
Monkeypox can affect anyone, and it doesn’t have to be spread sexually.
“Even a few children caught it, people caught it through family transmission and without sexual contact,” Kulkarni said. “It is certain that people who do not fall into the category of men who have sex with men can also contract monkeypox. It’s just that it’s disproportionate in the community right now.
Who is eligible for the vaccine?
Due to the limited doses of monkeypox vaccine available, only people in one of the following categories can currently receive the two-shot vaccination schedule:
- People who have had close, intimate, skin-to-skin contact with someone who tested positive for monkeypox, or;
- Men aged 18 and over who have sex with men who had multiple or anonymous sexual partners in the last 14 days.
Where can I get vaccinated?
If you are eligible for the vaccine and you live in Dallas County, you can get an appointment with Dallas County Health and Human Services by calling 972-692-2780.
Appointments will also soon be offered by community health partners Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment and Prism Health North Texas.