Hillsborough County reports first 3 cases of monkeypox

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Three monkeypox cases have been reported in Hillsborough County — the first time the viral disease has been detected in the county during the current global outbreak.

The infected people have been told to isolate, said Ryan Terry, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, which conducts contact tracing for monkeypox cases.

Pinellas County has diagnosed nine cases, according to state data current as of Tuesday. No infections have been recorded in Pasco County.

“It’s not airborne. It’s not another COVID,” Terry said. “You’re not going to get it having a conversation with somebody.”

The risk to the general public is low, said Terry, who added he couldn’t discuss individual cases.

“The vast majority” of cases in the current outbreak involve men who have sex with men, said Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, during a Wednesday briefing with reporters.

Before the outbreak, U.S. cases were extremely rare and associated with travel or importation of infected animals. The country has diagnosed more than 2,300 cases this year. Florida has recorded 208 cases. Almost 80% of the state’s infections are in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Florida has received about 26,000 doses of Jynneos, a vaccine used against the virus in people 18 and older, from the Strategic National Stockpile, a repository of medical supplies.

The health department in Hillsborough County has a limited supply of the vaccine, Terry said.

“It’s not broadly being distributed,” Terry said.

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s rash, scabs or bodily fluids through intercourse, kissing, massage and any other kind of skin-to-skin contact.

If people in Hillsborough County think they’ve been exposed to monkeypox, Terry said they should contact their health care provider or the University Area STD Clinic in Tampa.

The county health department will evaluate each case and decide whether to provide a vaccine, Terry said. There aren’t mass vaccine events or pop-up clinics at this point.

Those being prioritized for the shots in Florida are: Close contacts of people with monkeypox; health care workers at high risk; immunocompromised men who have sex with men; and men with a recent history of a sexually transmitted disease who have sex with men, Choe said.

When asked if the Pinellas County health department is providing vaccines, Choe said Wednesday that officials have started transferring vaccines to community partners. He didn’t provide specifics.

Doses are in short supply, Choe said.

“As they become more available, we will continue to work with community partners to help distribute the vaccines to those in the high-risk groups,” he said.

Monkeypox, which is endemic in parts of west and central Africa, is considered mild and similar to smallpox. But it can cause serious or even deadly health complications in immunocompromised and pregnant people, newborns, those who are breastfeeding, young children and people with severe skin diseases such as eczema.

Symptoms of monkeypox include fevers and chills, swollen lymph nodes, rash and headaches.

Staff writer Christopher O’Donnell contributed to this report.