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What Austin-area parents should know about monkeypox as kids head back to school

Area leaders declared a local emergency on Tuesday but, so far, zero monkeypox cases have been reported among children here in Austin.

AUSTIN, Texas — Following a similar move by the federal government last week, Austin-area officials on Tuesday declared a local emergency in regard to rising cases of monkeypox.

Tuesday was also the first day of school for Del Valle ISD, with many other local districts set to follow suit in the coming days, begging the question: "Is it safe for my kids to go back to school?"

In a press conference announcing the local emergency declaration Tuesday, Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Austin Mayor Steve Adler were joined by Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes. Back-to-school concerns were brought up multiple times.

"My hope today is that this declaration will drive more state and federal resources to Austin and Travis County,” said Brown, who has school-aged children himself. “We also want the public to be aware of the symptoms and risks associated with monkeypox. With colleges, universities and schools coming back, and festival season beginning, it is imperative for everyone to do their part to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Walkes noted that there are currently 68 potential cases of monkeypox in Travis County – nine confirmed and 59 presumptive. As of Tuesday, only nine women and two children across the state have been confirmed to have had monkeypox. In Austin and Travis County so far, cases have only been reported in men. However, zero deaths have been reported here in town.

"In recent years, the case fatality rate has been 3 to 6%, and the number of deaths from monkeypox disease has been higher in young children," said Brown. "This is a problem for everyone in our community, and we need to take it seriously."

While the virus has often been reported among adults in the LGBTQ+ community, the virus can still spread to anyone – including children.

Walkes said that it is imperative for the public to do its part in preventing the spread of the virus, including washing your hands, wearing a mask, avoiding direct skin-to-skin contact by covering your skin when possible, and staying home and isolating when you're feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms, such as fever, chills, headache and a rash.

"And for those who are in a situation where they're looking at sending children back to school, and for those who are going back to university, we provide the guidance to take measures to protect yourself in that way as well," said Walkes.

Walkes noted that monkeypox is a "self-limited" disease, meaning most people are not being hospitalized. However, isolation periods could put those who test positive out of work for up to 28 days.

"It's more problematic for people that are getting it in the mouth and in areas where it's painful, and it's more problematic for people who are pregnant because they can pass it to their fetus, for children who are under the age of eight, for people whose immune system is not able to protect them as well," said Walkes. "So those are the individuals that are going to be prioritized for treatment with our oral antivirals. But overall, we just don't want to have to be taken out of commission for a long period of time because we've gotten this, you know, smallpox was in our community a long time ago and we eradicated it with vaccine. So vaccines are going to help us."

Austin Public Health has been administering the two-dose JYNNEOS vaccine – which was recently emergency approved for use among children at high risk – to those who currently qualify based on CDC guidelines. 

Right now, those are people who are at high risk and have had close contacts with someone with monkeypox, who had a sexual partner in the past 14 days who was diagnosed with monkeypox, or those who had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days in a jurisdiction with known monkeypox.

For more information on monkeypox in Austin, visit the Austin Public Health website.

Watch Tuesday's full press conference below:

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