Washington monkeypox cases on the rise as Biden declares public health emergency

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Aug. 5—As monkeypox cases double roughly every week in Washington, the United States on Thursday declared a public health emergency.

Washington has 166 confirmed orthopoxvirus cases, which are considered likely monkeypox, Department of Health officials shared on Thursday. Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said the threat of monkeypox to the general public as of today remains low.

"However, we are seeing a worrisome increase in cases across the globe, across the country and certainly across the state of Washington," he said.

The Biden administration on Thursday declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency in an effort to free up federal money and resources to fight the virus. There are more than 7,100 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the U.S. to date.

Symptoms of monkeypox can include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and respiratory symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the most common and recognizable symptoms is a pimple-like rash on many parts of the body. Some people get a rash first followed by other symptoms, while others only experience a rash, according to the CDC. Most people will get a rash.

Monkeypox is most commonly spread through skin-to-skin contact, said Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, Washington's chief science officer . It can spread through prolonged close contact with someone with a rash, or by touching bedding or clothing also touched by someone with a rash.

The majority of monkeypox cases in the U.S. have spread more rapidly among the LGBTQ community, specifically gay or bisexual men.

Anyone can get monkeypox, health officials said Thursday.

While most of Washington's cases are in King County, 10 other counties — including Spokane County — have reported cases.

Spokane County's first case of monkeypox was reported last week. The patient was likely exposed outside of Washington but tested positive in Spokane County, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.

Shah said officials anticipate more cases out of more counties in the coming weeks.

While Washington has not declared a public health emergency for monkeypox, Department of Health officials said they are continuing to monitor the situation closely. If they feel they need to declare an emergency, they will, Shah said.

Anyone who notices a rash should avoid contact with other people until the rash is gone. They should seek medical attention right away, get tested and receive treatment, often through vaccination.

The Washington Department of Health has already ordered and distributed more than 6,800 doses of the vaccine, while more than 17,000 doses are expected to arrive in the next four to six weeks. That includes more than 96% of Washington's share of vaccines from the federal government, said Michele Roberts, assistant secretary of health.

The only people currently eligible for a monkeypox vaccine are those who have had direct exposure with someone with a confirmed or probable monkeypox case. A limited number of doses are also given to laboratory workers who directly handle monkeypox specimens, according to the Department of Health.

Roberts said Washington is looking to expand eligibility to people who are at highest risk, such as the LGBTQ community, but the state currently does not have enough vaccine for that.

The monkeypox outbreak comes as the state continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases are down from their peak, but there is still a strain on the health care system, Shah said. As of Thursday, about 12% of hospital beds statewide were occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.