Monkeypox is now considered community spread in Austin-Travis County

Austin Public Health (APH) says monkeypox is now considered "community spread" in Travis County

Community spread means infection in the area is moving at such a rate that the source can not be identified to a single individual or population, according to the press release from the health department. 

"It just means it’s not just staying isolated to one person or a group of people it’s percolating at low levels in the community," said Dr. Rodney E. Rohde-Specialist in Virology, Microbiology and Molecular Diagnostics.

As of Tuesday, six monkeypox cases and seven presumptive cases were confirmed in Austin-Travis County. The illness typically lasts for 2−4 weeks.

This is not a new virus, and in fact, it's been around for decades.

"Monkeypox is literally a cousin of smallpox. It was first confirmed in a human in 1970 when it was isolated n a child who was suspected of having smallpox in the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Rohde.

The symptoms are flu like at first, but later on a rash is formed, and later, blisters on the skin.

Rhode said transmission is actually a little more difficult.

"It’s nothing like COVID, it’s actually quite time when it comes to transmission. The primary transmission routes are skin to skin and skin to fomites, it’s a word for any surfaces like bed linens, doorknobs, clothing," he said.

Doctor Peter Hotez specializes in molecular virology. He said the public should not panic.

"The two viruses have some similarities, smallpox produces a much more severe illness with 30 percent mortality as opposed to monkeypox which is likely under 1 percent. It still is a serious illness and this is probably the biggest monkeypox outbreak this country has ever seen," said Hotez, professor of pediatrics and moleculer virology at Baylor College of Medicine.

Hotez said if you think you have been exposed, go to your doctor. There is an opportunity to receive the vaccine post exposure. He is hopeful that vaccines will become widely available to take before exposure happens. Although doctors believe the public shouldn't worry, the spread of monkeypox is still a wake-up call.

"It is a solid reminder why we need strong surveillance systems in place for zoonotic disease, and why we need for public health and testing," said Rohde.

People should try to avoid skin-to-skin contact with strangers, especially those who have a rash or whose health history is unknown, according to APH. 

The virus can also reportedly be spread through contaminated clothing or bed linens, and by sharing eating utensils or cups, cigarettes or vaping devices, kissing, and other activities where saliva might be exchanged with a person who has monkeypox.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’ The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Since then monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries.

What are signs or symptoms of Monkeypox?

In humans, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox. Monkeypox begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion. The main difference between symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox is that monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell (lymphadenopathy) while smallpox does not. The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 7−14 days but can range from 5−21 days.

The illness begins with:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion

Within 1 to 3 days (sometimes longer) after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body.

Lesions progress through the following stages before falling off:

  • Macules
  • Papules
  • Vesicles
  • Pustules
  • Scabs

The illness typically lasts for 2−4 weeks. In Africa, monkeypox has been shown to cause death in as many as 1 in 10 persons who contract the disease.

How is Monkeypox spread or transmitted?

Monkeypox can be spread to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation and travel history.

However, Monkeypox does not spread easily among people without close contact. The virus can be transmitted by person-to-person contact including:   

  • Direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids.
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as massages, kissing, cuddling, sex, or contact with genitals.
  • Touching fabrics and objects that were used by a person with monkeypox and that have not been disinfected such as bedding, towels, and other personal items.
  • Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.

There are several measures that can be taken to prevent infection with monkeypox:   

  • Minimize skin-to-skin contact, especially if a person has been exposed to the virus, showing a rash or skin sores.
  • Avoid contact with any materials, such as bedding, that have been in contact with monkeypox.
  • Practice good hand hygiene. For example, washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE), mask, gloves, eye protection and gowns when caring for people infected with monkeypox.

For more information on Monkeypox in Austin-Travis County, click here.