NEW ORLEANS (KLFY) — “It’s not ebola. It’s not COVID.”
Those were some of the first words Louisiana Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter spoke as he led a Department of Health (LDH) technical briefing announcing the first case of monkeypox in a Louisiana resident on Thursday. Kanter said that while monkeypox was previously detected in an out-of-state resident who was visiting Louisiana, today’s announcement marked the first Louisiana resident to have the disease.
Kanter said that while monkeypox is not expected to become a pandemic on the level of COVID, the spread of the disease into Louisiana was “only a matter of time.” He also said it’s believed that the disease is underreported across the state, as symptoms can be very mild and the incubation period for the disease is long.
Currently, Louisiana is one of only 35 states to report a monkeypox case. Only around 7,000 cases have been reported worldwide and only around 600 have been reported in the U.S. Heightened awareness, he said, could help to keep infections low.
Who is most at-risk?
In addition to normal high-risk groups, such as people who have compromised immune systems, the largest at-risk group presently is men having unprotected or risky sex with other men — especially those with multiple or anonymous partners. Anyone who has symptoms similar to monkeypox should refrain from intimate contact with others and get tested.
People are considered to be at an “intermediate risk” if they were within six feet of a sick person for more than three hours.
What is monkeypox and what are the symptoms?
Monkeypox is a “cousin” of smallpox, Kanter explained. While its symptoms are similar to smallpox, they are generally far milder and deaths from monkeypox are “rare if not almost unheard of.” That doesn’t mean death isn’t possible, said Kanter, though the chances are extremely low. Monkeypox is much less transmissible than COVID, Kanter said.
According to the CDC, symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backaches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and a rash that can look like pimples or blisters. The rash can appear on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.
State Epidemiologist Theresa Sokol explained that two vaccines used for smallpox, ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS, have also been successful in fighting monkeypox. If given within four days of exposure, Sokol said the disease can usually be prevented entirely.
What happens if I get monkeypox?
The disease typically lasts between two and four weeks, according to the CDC.
Sokol said LDH is performing a version of contact tracing and is monitoring people who have been exposed to the disease. LDH is using a phone texting system to stay in contact with those who were exposed for at least 21 days. Quarantines are not necessary with monkeypox, she said.
Currently, Sokol said the state is monitoring between 15 and 20 people statewide. She said people have been very receptive to the text-based monitoring system, as it is “non-invasive,” she said. The texts generally ask people how their symptoms are progressing and give them resources for medical help, where needed.
Where can I get tested, and should I?
Testing rollout across the state is just beginning. Most local clinics and hospitals can swab a patient for the disease, and a large number of medical testing labs will be increasing their testing capabilities, said Kanter. Physicians are also being briefed about the disease to increase testing, as many of the symptoms mimic other diseases, and doctors may not immediately think to test for monkeypox.
How is monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox is primarily spread through “direct contact with a rash or sores of someone who has the virus,” stated an LDH press release. “It can also spread through contact with clothing, bedding and other items used by a person with monkeypox, or from respiratory droplets that can be passed through prolonged face-to-face contact, including kissing, cuddling or sex.”
It can also be caught from infected animals, either through scratches or bites. It can also be caught by eating meat from infected animals.
People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others.