Southern California’s latest presumptive monkeypox case was reported in Orange County on Thursday.
Orange County authorities are awaiting confirmation of the case from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the meantime, local officials are presuming it is monkeypox and are performing contact tracing and working to prevent further infection for close contacts.
The Orange County Health Care Agency did not report when the patient contracted the virus, saying only that the person is in isolation.
“We consider it serious, and it is an ongoing investigation as to the extent of it in our county,” Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Doug Chaffee said. “After that investigation we’ll let the public know how to combat it. When we have more information we’ll let the public know.”
The infection came to light earlier this week when a primary care physician suspected it and alerted the county’s Communicable Disease Control unit, one official said.
County officials are “working with all relevant agencies and partners to track, control, and curtail the spread of monkeypox within the county,” Dr. Christopher Zimmerman of the county’s communicable disease control division said in a statement. “The affected individual is already in isolation and exposed contacts are in the process to receive post-exposure prophylaxis vaccination.”
There have been 4,769 cases worldwide as of Tuesday. In the U.S. there have been 306 cases in 28 states.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced a vaccination strategy to address the spread of monkeypox.
County officials said monkeypox can spread through sexual contact and advised the public to be vigilant and if they suspect they have symptoms they should call their doctor, cover the rash with clothing, wear a mask and avoid skin-to-skin contact with anyone else while also isolating from family members and pets.
The county has some vaccines available for anyone exposed to the virus.
Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said the outbreaks are concerning.
“It’s definitely something of concern. I’m paying attention to it and I’m concerned about it, but I wouldn’t say I’m freaking out,” Noymer said. “COVID-19 will kill more people in the county than monkeypox will and I guarantee it. Even if it explodes I guarantee it. But it’s not a nothingburger. It’s a disease not seen on this scale outside of Africa, so it’s something to be taken seriously.”
Noymer said there were two super-spreader events that have likely fueled the outbreak.
“What’s happened is there were super-spreader events in Europe,” Noymer said. “Sometimes you throw a match in gasoline and doesn’t go off and sometimes it does. There was a big rave in Spain and a lifestyle festival in Belgium. They appear to be spreader events and it’s gone from there.”
Noymer said the virus has shown “an uncanny ability” to remain within the social networks where it ignited.
“Most of the cases have been among men who have sex with men,” Noymer said.
Monkeypox, however, is not a sexually transmitted disease because it can be spread from skin-to-skin contact and there have been some pediatric cases, Noymer said.
Monkeypox symptoms include a fever, general malaise and an uncomfortable rash that may look like pimples, Noymer said.
There has been only one death that may be connected to the virus globally, Noymer said.