Monkeypox cases jump in Ventura County, but risk levels remain low, health officials say

·3 min read

Nine more confirmed or probable monkeypox cases have emerged in the nearly three weeks since Ventura County's first case, officials said Tuesday.

The disease has been declared an emergency nationwide and in California, where 1,310 cases had been reported as of Thursday. More than 430 of those were in Los Angeles County.

Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin said the local tally and the risk to the community remains relatively low.

"We're seeing an expected increase," he said. "It's proceeding at a low rate."

Eight local monkeypox infections have been confirmed by state public health officials and two others are probable cases that will likely be validated any day, Levin said.

Nearly all of the cases worldwide involve men who have sex with men, though anyone can be infected. Levin declined to comment on specifics of local infections except to say many affected high-risk people.

The disease can spread in any community where there is frequent and close physical interaction including schools, sports teams and college campuses, Levin said. It can spread through skin-to-skin contact with lesions, scabs or infected fluids as well as through contaminated clothing or bedding. Research is being conducted on how often the disease is passed through respiratory droplets.

This image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles , in red, found within an infected cell, blue, cultured in a laboratory.
This image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles , in red, found within an infected cell, blue, cultured in a laboratory.

Monkeypox is rarely fatal and only one local patient was admitted for hospital care, Levin said.

The virus often starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever, swollen glands, muscle aches and headaches. A rash often comes after — sometimes before — other symptoms. Painful lesions may start on the hands or face but can also develop in the mouth, anus or genital area.

People with symptoms or who know they've been exposed should contact a doctor and ask about testing, Levin said.

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The county’s vaccine supply has grown from a meager 20 doses in late July to more than 360 doses that have been received from the California Department of Public Health. Vaccines are still being rationed with only one dose being administered to eligible people instead of the recommended two shots given four weeks apart.

Limited inventory also affects decision on who gets shots.

"We don’t have enough vaccine so we can cast a wide net," Levin said.

The county is following federal guidelines in administering vaccines. Eligible people include those who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, men and woman who engage in high-risk sexual activity with multiple male partners, laboratory workers who deal with monkeypox specimens, and health care workers who collect samples for testing.

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People who think they are eligible should call public health at 805-981-5201 for screening.

Many patients may not require medication, but the virus can be treated with an antiviral drug called TPOXX, approved for smallpox but not monkeypox. Levin said at least three area doctors have agreed to administer the drug despite the mountain of paperwork required by the federal government for each "off-label" use.

The treatment, vaccines and low fatality risks distinguish monkeypox from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Levin said.

"We just need to see more production of the vaccine and more education of the public," he said.

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Public health is involved in monkeypox outreach with groups, including HIV/AIDS organizations, Diversity Collective of Ventura County and Planned Parenthood, Levin said.

Health officials said people can minimize their risk by taking the following steps:

  • Avoid intimate and physical contact with anyone who has symptoms.

  • Talk openly with sexual partners prior to intimate physical contact.

  • Consider covering exposed skin in dense, indoor crowds.

  • Don't share bedding and clothing with others.

  • Stay aware if traveling to countries where there are outbreaks.

For more information, go to vchca.org/monkeypox.

USA Today contributed to this report.

Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at tom.kisken@vcstar.com or 805-437-0255.

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This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Monkeypox cases jump in Ventura County, but risk levels remain low, health officials say