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Austin-Travis County health leaders share latest now that monkeypox is considered 'community spread'

Eight monkeypox cases and nine presumptive cases have been confirmed in the area as of Thursday, July 14.

AUSTIN, Texas — Monkeypox is now considered "community spread" in Austin-Travis County, Austin Public Health (APH) reported Wednesday. 

During a Thursday, July 14, update from APH, officials said there are nine confirmed monkeypox cases and eight presumptive cases in the area. APH said local monkeypox case totals will be updated online every Thursday. None of the individuals locally have been hospitalized.

APH said people should avoid skin-to-skin contact with strangers, especially those who have a rash or whose health history is unknown. Monkeypox can also be spread by activities where saliva might be exchanged, including sharing eating utensils or cups and kissing. It can also be spread through contaminated clothing or bed linens.

Dr. Desmar Walkes with APH said that, overall, the infection can be mild and clear up in a few weeks unless someone who is immunocompromised becomes infected. Dr. Kristin Mondy with Dell Medical Center added that pregnant women and children under eight are at high risk. People who have skin conditions are also considered high risk.

RELATED: 4 Fast Facts about monkeypox

Mondy said those who develop skin lesions should be careful in managing them to prevent spreading the infection to other parts of their body and to other individuals. 

"People do need to be careful when managing their own lesions. You could touch a lesion and then, for example, some cases have cited where you could accidentally inoculate your eye by rubbing it or putting in a contact lens and that could lead to a pretty severe infection in your eye or if people had multiple skin touch," she said Thursday. 

"But overall, for the person that just gets these classic small numbers of lesions on your skin, like Dr. Walkes said, it's generally a mild disease. Things clear up in a few weeks and the mortality is less than 1%," Mondy said.

Walkes said APH is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Department of State Health Services to provide testing to those suspected of having monkeypox. They are also providing vaccines to those who have had close contact with someone who had tested positive. Treatment is also available to those who have tested positive and need it.

At this time, vaccines are limited but once more become available, APH said it plans to expand availability. No details on when that could happen were shared.

RELATED: US officials announce 'aggressive' steps against monkeypox outbreak

Dr. Mike Stefanowicz, a doctor with CommUnity Care, said the clinic he works at has diagnosed and cared for about half of the cases in the Austin-Travis County area. He said the clinic does not offer mass testing but does offer it for established patients. The clinic also has a partnership with APH to provide testing on a case-by-case basis.

APH said monkeypox can be spread to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or travel history. Monkeypox does not spread easily between people without close contact, APH reports.  

Stefanowicz specified that although the disease is impacting gay and bisexual men and those who have intimate skin contact with same-sex partners, it can spread to others who don't identify as part of those groups. 

RELATED: States getting more monkeypox vaccines soon, US health officials say

"I think it is incredibly important to clarify that monkeypox is absolutely not a disease of the gay community," Stefanowicz said. "Rather, it's circulating right now among a small subset of this population but that we know historically this virus has similarly impacted other very different groups of people in the past."

The virus can be transmitted by person-to-person contact including:   

  • Direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs or body fluids
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact
  • Touching fabrics and objects that were used by a person with monkeypox and that have not been disinfected such as bedding, towels and other personal items
  • Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta

Symptoms of monkeypox can include:   

  • Fever   
  • Headache   
  • Muscle aches and backache   
  • Swollen lymph nodes   
  • Chills   
  • Exhaustion   
  • A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth and on other parts of the body, like the hands/palms, feet, chest or genitals. The rash goes through different stages before healing completely

Monkeypox typically lasts two to four weeks. To prevent infection with monkeypox, residents can: 

  • Minimize skin-to-skin contact, especially if a person has been exposed to the virus, is showing a rash or has skin sores
  • Avoid contact with any materials, such as bedding, that have been in contact with monkeypox
  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for people infected with monkeypox

APH Director Adrienne Sturrup stressed the importance of knowing what monkeypox is, the symptoms and how it's transmitted to keep people safe at a time when vaccines against the disease aren't widely available.

"Education is key to making informed decisions that will help keep you and your family safe. That's going to be particularly important while we wait for vaccines to become more widely available," she said. 

"I think one of the most important things we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we need to inform ourselves with information and if we are experiencing any symptoms at all we need to reach out to our medical care provider to ask questions and get tested," she added.

On Thursday, Williamson County also confirmed it is investigating its first presumptive case.

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