Bay Area health officials issue monkeypox warning amid summer travels, gatherings

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Bay Area health officials issue monkeypox warning
Photo credit: CDC

By Kathy Chouteau

Bay Area officials from nine health jurisdictions are cautioning community members to protect themselves against the monkeypox virus as cases continue to occur throughout the local region and beyond, particularly amid summer travels and gatherings. The virus, which appears as rashes and sores that resemble blisters or pimples, spreads through extended skin-to-skin contact and bodily fluids, i.e., via crowds or sexual contact.

“Monkeypox is not new, but this is the first time this virus has spread in so many countries at once,” stated Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS). As of this writing, no cases of monkeypox have been identified in Contra Costa County, however, several cases have been confirmed in neighboring counties, per CCHS. 

Monkeypox often starts with flu-like symptoms preceding a rash that typically can last two to four weeks. While many monkeypox cases resolve on their own, more serious cases do occur; a post-exposure vaccination is available via healthcare providers.

Community members engaging in high-risk behaviors—such as having sex with numerous partners, frequenting crowded spaces where close skin-to-skin contact, sex, kissing and close breathing occurs and sharing clothing or bedding while the virus is spreading locally—are more prone to contract it. Otherwise, the risk to the general public is low, per CCHS.

While currently, many monkeypox cases presently appearing are among communities self-identified as gay and bisexual men, trans people and men who have sex with men, CCHS cautions against stigmatizing certain groups of people re: the virus and emphasize that “people of any sexual orientation or gender identity can become infected” and spread it.

“Monkeypox is not common in the Bay Area. By being mindful now about how to protect ourselves and each other, we can keep it that way,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, Contra Costa County health officer. He added that they are working closely with the state, neighboring counties and community healthcare providers to keep the public updated.

According to CCHS, community members can protect themselves against monkeypox by covering their exposed skin in large indoor crowds; not sharing bedding or clothing with others if possible; talking to partners about possible sores prior to having close, physical contact; and being aware of outbreaks in places you’re visiting.

Those exhibiting possible symptoms or who have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox should remain home when feeling sick; be evaluated ASAP by a health care provider; avoid skin-to-skin, or close contact with others, including sexual contact, until receiving a medical evaluation; notify sex partners about any symptoms; cover the rash with clean, dry, loose-fitting clothing; wear a well-fitted mask; and—if contacted by public health officials—should answer their confidential questions to help protect others possibly exposed, per CCHS.

For more info about monkeypox, visit: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) [cdc.gov]; California Department of Public Health (CDPH) [cdph.ca.gov]; and Social gatherings and safer sex from the CDC [cdc.gov].