BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The first probable case of monkeypox in Kern County was reported over the weekend. Kern Public Health says the person is in isolation and recovering at home.
Monkeypox cases have been increasing across the United States since the first one was confirmed in Massachusetts in May. At the moment 39 states are seeing cases according to a map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with California having 148 confirmed cases.
Despite this sudden surge of this very rare virus, and the one probable case in Kern County, the public health department says the risk of getting monkeypox is low.
"So this is our first case in Kern County. We've had several that have been suspected. That have been evaluated. That have been tested," said Dr. Kimberly Hernandez, the division director of health services and lead epidemiologist at the Kern County Public Health Department. "You know we continue to get calls pretty regularly and we know throughout the state of California cases continue to increase it including in our neighboring counties."
It's important to know that this is being referred to as a "probable case" which can be confusing. According to the CDC, there are three types of definitions, suspect, probable, and confirmed. And the Kern Public Health Department says that at the moment it comes down to the type of test that was completed.
For example, in the Kern County case, the test used detected orthopoxvirus, which includes monkeypox as well as other viruses like smallpox. But because there are no other orthopoxviruses circulating and the person in question had no known exposures, they can call it a probable case.
"With our first case we are looking very closely for whether there will be a next one, we are doing the contact tracing to see if we can reduce those risk in those close contacts, but this is something you know throughout the united states we're continuing to down identify the case," said Hernandez.
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae. The Orthopoxvirus genus also includes variola virus (which causes smallpox), vaccinia virus (used in the smallpox vaccine), and cowpox virus. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox.
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research. Despite being named “monkeypox”, the source of the disease remains unknown. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) may harbor the virus and infect people.
The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970. Since then, monkeypox has been reported in people in several other central and western African countries. Prior to the 2022 outbreak, nearly all monkeypox cases in people outside of Africa were linked to international travel to countries where the disease commonly occurs, or through imported animals.
Although it has been confirmed the case reported is from a Kern County resident, it is unknown if the person recently traveled out of the county. Kern Public Health says it is conducting contact tracing for more potential exposures. Those exposures usually come from close person-to-person contact.
Because testing is limited and only done through a swab sent to a lab, it is important to check in with your medical provider if you have any of the symptoms.
"Characteristic symptom of monkeypox is a rash. It's a very specific type of rash that doesn't look like other rashes that you might find but people can also experience those flu-like symptoms, a headache or fever chills, and body aches but it's usually that rash that drives people into their medical provider," said Hernandez.
What are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?
- Muscle aches and backache
- Swollen lymph nodes
- 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, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.
The rash goes through different stages before healing completely. The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks. Sometimes, people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash.
She adds to also check in with your doctor beforehand to make sure they have the testing capability.
Because that is a growing issue, the CDC announced Mayo Clinics have begun nationwide testing, expecting to be able to perform up to 10,000 test per week.
In a statement the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said: “This will not only increase testing capacity but also make it more convenient for providers and patients to access tests by using existing provider-to-laboratory networks."
In addition to the increase in testing, there are two vaccines available for smallpox, which also work on monkeypox, with access likely to be expanded as more cases are reported. They do expect to open eligibility for that vaccine once it becomes more available. But again, at the moment risk is very low.