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UVA infectious disease expert says to take 'monkeypox quite seriously'

A view of the monkeypox virus through a microscope.
A monkeypox infection will likely be accompanied by a raft of symptoms, including lesions, fever, chills and headaches. (Photo: Courtesy World Health Organization)

The World Health Organization recently declared monkeypox, a viral disease that originated in Central and Western Africa, a global health emergency. The virus is a member of the same family as smallpox, though considered significantly less lethal.  

Although it is not a disease specifically connected to the LGBTQ+ community, as some social media posts have claimed, men who have sex with other men and individuals who frequently engage in sex with multiple partners are most at risk

Dr. Patrick Jackson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Virginia said that "people who are in these risk groups should take monkeypox quite seriously. They should be aware of their health, their partner's health [and] get tested, if there are any concerns.”  

Monkeypox is primarily spread through close contact with infected individuals or contaminated surfaces, and health officials warn that sex seems to be the primary method of transmission. 

Jackson added that “while the risk of dying from this disease is quite low, if you get it, the risk of having an uncomfortable few weeks is pretty real.” 

Experts have been critical of the federal government’s response to the current monkeypox outbreak — including Jackson, who said that “we are repeating a lot of the same mistakes we saw early in COVID-19.” 

Jackson is particularly concerned about the lack of clinical trials exploring the efficacy of available treatment options. “If you don't do the right clinical trials,” he said, “you're not going to be able to advise patients appropriately about which drugs and treatments are effective.” 

An infection will likely be accompanied by a raft of symptoms, including lesions, fever, chills and headaches. 

Taylor Lacey, a Richmond resident, voiced frustration with the lack of vaccine supply in Richmond, and said he has friends in larger cities who already have been inoculated. 

Lacey said that “it's just like something they're doing as a part of a daily errand or something. Like, ‘Oh, went to the grocery store this morning, check. Got my vaccine, check. Got my hair cut, check.’ And so, it definitely feels a little bit like [we’re] in limbo with it.” 

During a Wednesday press conference, the Richmond & Henrico Health Districts announced it has received 340 doses of the vaccine, 100 of which were planned for distribution by the end of the day.  

Dr. Elaine Perry, of RHHD, explained that they are submitting weekly requests for additional supplies, but the number of vaccine doses the department will receive is dependent upon allocations from the Virginia Department of Health. 

The district currently is receiving doses based on the number of confirmed cases in the region, as well as the speed at which the current vaccine supply is used, Perry said. She added that Richmond will receive additional doses following the federal government’s announcement that it is rolling out an additional 786,000 vaccine doses to states and local health departments. 

During Wednesday’s press conference, city officials also discussed their efforts around contact tracing and emphasized the importance of public cooperation in collecting information about the spread of monkeypox. 

To make the tracking process easier, officials are asking residents to cooperate as best they can with anonymous contact tracing efforts by answering calls from the health district and reporting symptoms to their healthcare providers. 

Testing around monkeypox can be difficult. Currently, there is no blood or respiratory test available for the virus, leaving swabs taken from active lesions as the only option. While this can, in part, explain the federal government’s response, UVA’s Jackson said that only individuals infected by the virus with active lesions can spread monkeypox to others. Since there appears to be no asymptomatic spread of the virus, he said, contact tracing should be easier than it was for COVID-19. 

For residents of Richmond city and Henrico County who are interested in receiving the vaccine, additional information can be found on the Richmond Health District website or by contacting their call center at 804-250-3501. Vaccines first will be distributed to those who are most at risk, due to a limited supply.