The CDC and New Jersey’s Department of Health confirmed Camden County’s first case of monkeypox earlier this month, but to protect patient privacy, the infected person’s residence, gender and age have not been disclosed.
Caryelle Lasher, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, explained that monkeypox is in the same family of viruses as smallpox. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, back aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and a signature rash that looks like pimples or blisters on the face, inside the mouth or on hands, feet, chest and genitals.
“The rash goes through different stages of healing, so it typically lasts two to four weeks, and the pox are contagious before they’ve healed over,” Lasher explained.
While the virus can be transmitted sexually – there are frequent cases among men who have sex with other men – it is not the sole means of transmission.
“Any contact with the pox can spread the disease,” Lasher said. “A lot of what we’re seeing with this outbreak is from skin-to-skin contact with the actual monkeypox rash. It can be spread through close contact, through sharing utensils, saliva, kissing, maybe close coughing into someone’s face, but not where we’re seeing it airborne or spreading across rooms.”
Caretakers and those living with someone infected should avoid skin-to-skin contact as well as bedding, towels or clothing that may have come in contact with that person.
“We should be cautious of touching any pox or sores on a person, because that’s how we see transmission of things like hand, foot and mouth (disease), chicken pox, herpes, (and) syphilis,” Lasher noted. “So if you see any kind of rash on a partner, especially a sexual partner or a family member, really encourage them to seek health care and avoid contact with any kind of rash.”
Lasher advises those who believe they’ve been exposed to talk with a health-care provider about symptoms and possible testing. While there is no specific treatment, she said that care for monkeypox is similar to that of most viral infections.
While there is a preventative vaccine, it is currently offered only to those who are most at risk, meaning those who are confirmed or those with a very probable case.
“Once you see the rash, you should self-isolate,” Lasher said. “Talk to a health-care provider and get evaluated if you have any rash on your hands, chest, feet or genitals.”
Preventive measures include frequent handwashing with soap or an alcohol-based sanitizer, avoiding travel to areas with current outbreaks – such as Central and West Africa – and avoiding contact with animals.
While specific monkeypox questions should be directed to a medical provider, Lasher said general questions can be directed to the county health department at (856) 549-0530.