Close to Home: Applying lessons of COVID to new virus
We have learned many lessons over the past two years to help us battle the spread of infectious diseases. One is the critical importance of working with community-based organizations, equity groups, health care workers at every level, media and others in getting out the most accurate and up-to-date information so residents, especially those most at risk, can make the best decisions about protecting their safety.
That’s why it’s critical to reach out now to discuss another virus spreading in our community — monkeypox.
To date, we have learned of 23 confirmed cases among Sonoma County residents. Nevertheless, it’s important to make clear that monkeypox continues to pose a low risk to the vast majority of Sonoma County residents.
Although it’s a viral infection, monkeypox does not behave or transmit like COVID-19. Monkeypox is less contagious than COVID-19 and is largely spread by intimate skin-to-skin contact, including kissing, hugging and sexual activity, between an infected or contagious individual and another person.
We want to reiterate that monkeypox can affect anyone. Currently, most cases are in the social network of self-identified men who have sex with men, and they need the most support.
It is critical that public health officials, members of the health care provider community and others in our broader community support members of the LGBTQ+ community and recognize that they are facing the greatest risks of this disease at this time. It is equally critical that everyone recognize that a person’s sexuality and sexual orientation is not the route of transmission. Anyone who has direct contact, especially skin-to-skin contact, with an infected person can contract the disease.
Consistent with World Health Organization guidance, we are recommending that individuals who face the greatest risk limit their number of intimate, skin-to-skin contacts, consider the risks of intimate contact with a new partner and exchange contact details with any new partners to allow follow up if needed for the time being. These steps will lower the risk of infection and reduce the spread until sufficient supplies of the Orthodox vaccine are available.
Meanwhile, public health officials at all levels are working to distribute the Jynneos vaccine to limit the spread from infectious individuals to others. Unfortunately, manufacturers have not produced vaccine supplies sufficient to meet the demand, and sufficient supply may not be available until the fall.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California Department of Public Health and Sonoma County Department of Health Services are distributing existing supplies and prioritizing distribution to those who have been exposed to someone with monkeypox or have a higher risk of being exposed to the virus.
To date, Sonoma County has received 990 doses of the vaccine. The doses have been distributed to the major health systems and federally qualified health centers as well as Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma County Indian Health Services Program and last week’s Lazy Bear event in Guerneville. Since supplies remain insufficient to meet the needs of the county, we need to focus on preventing and reducing the risk of acquiring and transmitting the virus. Combining prevention, vaccination and treatment will give us the best chance of slowing the spread of the illness.
Using the same care and compassion that residents displayed for populations disproportionately affected during the COVID pandemic, we are confident in our community’s ability to work together to combat this monkeypox outbreak as part of a healthy, safe and vibrant community.
For more information, go to the Department of Health Services website on disease control and the California Department of Public Health site concerning monkeypox.
Dr. Sundari Mase is health officer for Sonoma County. Gabriel Kaplan is director of the county’s Public Health Division.
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