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Preventing spread of monkeypox as cases rise in Washington

Experts said knowing the symptoms and isolating potential cases is the best way to stop the spread of monkeypox.

SEATTLE — Experts said education is power when it comes to stopping the spread of the monkeypox virus. The more you know, the less likely you are to spread it.

"There are strategies in place that we can utilize to kind of limit the spread, and those strategies have been effective in the past," said Washington State University (WSU) Assistance Professor Heather Koehler.

Koehler, who has studied the West African monkeypox virus at a WSU lab, said those in the research community expected to see monkeypox jump over to the United States.

"It's not surprising that with a population that's not protected, that it comes up," said Koehler.

Unlike previous generations, many people haven't gotten the smallpox vaccine, which Koehler said can help prevent monkeypox infections as well.

A limited number of the monkeypox vaccines are being distributed in Washington state to help stop the virus' spread. The state was allotted 796 doses of the two-dose JYNNEOS vaccine, equating to 398 courses. Of those, 272 courses have been distributed to areas with known cases and close contacts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Public Health - Seattle & King County said it received 250 of those courses.

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Koehler believes this is part of a known strategy to help stop the spread of monkeypox. In 2003, the U.S. saw a monkeypox outbreak. The CDC reported 47 known cases. A "variety of activities" prevented further spread.

"This included extensive laboratory testing; deployment of smallpox vaccine and treatments; development of guidance for patients, healthcare providers, veterinarians, and other animal handlers; tracking potentially infected animals; and investigation into possible human cases," the CDC said on its website.

However, the current outbreak has more than 765 confirmed cases in the United States, including 14 in Washington State, according to CDC data updated July 9.

"I have been, you know, not surprisingly, family, friends, everyone's texting me. I would like to give everyone else the same reassurance that I give them, don't be afraid, this is not going to be a new pandemic, in my opinion," said Koehler.

Unlike COVID-19, there's more information readily available for monkey pox.

"We're not starting from scratch. We know the symptoms. We know the transmission. We know the incubation period," said Koehler. She said knowing the symptoms and isolating potential cases is the best way to stop the spread.

What is monkeypox? And how does it spread?

Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people. Most human cases have been in central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic.

The illness was first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys — thus the name monkeypox. The first known human infection was in 1970 in a 9-year-old boy in a remote part of Congo.

Monkeypox belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but causes milder symptoms.

Most patients experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.

The incubation period is from about five days to three weeks. Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized.

Monkeypox can be fatal for up to one in 10 people and is thought to be more severe in children.

People exposed to the virus are often given one of several smallpox vaccines, which have been shown to be effective against monkeypox. Anti-viral drugs are also being developed.

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