Health officials say there is now 'community spread' of monkeypox in Austin
Monkeypox is now spreading through the Austin and Travis County area at such a rate that the source cannot be traced back to a single person or group, Austin Public Health announced Wednesday. This rate of infection is known as “community spread.”
“We need to be safe and follow practices we’ve learned from COVID-19 to prevent the spread of monkeypox here in our community,” local Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a press release. “Try to reduce close, intimate interactions with those whose health history you’re unaware of. Use hand sanitizer, and wear masks when in close quarters with others who have symptoms.”
Since the international outbreak of this disease began earlier this year, more than 900 cases have been identified in the U.S., with 39 in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Six monkeypox cases have been confirmed in Austin and Travis County, and seven other people are presumed to be positive as well but are awaiting official confirmation from the CDC.
Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus. This virus is part of the same family as the virus that causes smallpox, according to the CDC. Monkeypox symptoms include a rash that can look like pimples or blisters, fever, muscle and body aches, headaches, chills and swollen lymph nodes. The disease is rarely fatal.
Heather Cooks-Sinclair, manager of APH’s Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit, told KUT no one with monkeypox in the Austin area is hospitalized. She also said the disease is a lot less transmissible than COVID-19; it doesn’t spread easily without close contact.
“Most of the [infected] people we've talked with have had close, direct contact — skin to skin — with someone who was positive for monkeypox,” she said.
To prevent the spread of disease, Austin Public Health says people should avoid physical contact with strangers, particularly those who have a rash or a health history unknown to you. The health agency says the virus can also be spread via contaminated clothes or bed linens, as well as through activities where saliva might be exchanged with someone who has the disease, such as through kissing or sharing eating utensils, cups, cigarettes or vaping devices.
Cooks-Sinclair said APH has ordered monkeypox vaccines and treatment from the federal government, but there's a limited supply. She said APH is prioritizing treating those who are at the highest risk for developing severe disease, and vaccines are going to people who have a known exposure to someone who tested positive.
APH is reminding people the disease can be spread by anyone, no matter their sexual orientation or where they’ve traveled.
“Stigma and blame undermine trust and capacity to respond effectively during outbreaks like this one,” APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said in the release. “We know from experience that stigmatizing rhetoric can disable an evidence-based response with fear, driving people away from health services and impeding case investigations.”