Monkeypox infecting some women and children in WA as outbreak spreads

A King County infant has become infected with the monkeypox virus as the outbreak grows in Washington, prompting public health leaders to again remind medical providers of possible symptoms and call attention to the seriousness of the disease.

While the threat of infection to the general public remains low, the pediatric case serves as the latest reminder that while the current outbreak has spread primarily among men who have sex with men, anyone can become sick, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said Thursday morning.

This week, Public Health – Seattle & King County said three of the county’s monkeypox patients identify as cisgender women, including one who might have been exposed through sex. A 17-year-old also tested positive for monkeypox earlier this month, according to the state Department of Health.

“This continues to be an outbreak we’re monitoring very closely,” Shah said. “We must continue to remember this is a contact-based virus. It is not limited to any community and while it is disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ+ community, anyone anywhere can be at risk.”

The King County infant is currently hospitalized, though they are stable and receiving treatment, according to King County’s public health department. The child was likely exposed to monkeypox through an infected family member and not through school, child care or another public setting, the department said.

Public health officials declined to share further information about the pediatric case for privacy reasons.

Shah also instructed all Washingtonians to be aware of any new rashes on their skin and that if one pops up they’re not sure about, to keep it covered, get it checked by a medical provider and avoid direct skin contact or sharing items with others .

As of Thursday, the state has confirmed 392 monkeypox cases, including 318 in King County. No one has died from the virus in Washington, though several have been hospitalized for treatment.

While vaccines remain in short supply locally and nationwide, a number of counties have been hosting vaccine clinics for residents most at risk.

King County is hosting its second monkeypox vaccine clinic Saturday at Seattle Central College from 10 am to 6 pm Shots will be administered on a first come, first served basis for people who have been exposed to the virus or are considered to be at high risk of infection.

To date, Washington has received 16,210 vials of vaccine — 100% of the state’s current allocation, Shah said. While the US Food and Drug Administration has recently authorized states to stretch the two-dose vaccines with a method that can get them up to five doses per vial, providers have noted they’re receiving closer to three or four doses per vial, Shah said .

Early DOH estimates show about 77,000 people statewide are at the highest risk of contracting monkeypox, agency spokesperson Nikki Ostergaard said earlier this month. The number came from the state’s sexually transmitted infection surveillance, case management and other data systems, she said.

US Sen. Patty Murray this week renewed her call to the federal government to “do more to address existing, unacceptable shortages in vaccine supply, institute comprehensive distribution and communication strategies, and develop long-term procurement plans,” she wrote in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, shared by The Washington Post.

“I know we’re all used to being in a pandemic. We’re used to COVID,” Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, said Thursday. “But this outbreak of monkeypox in the midst of COVID is a large outbreak by itself — 392 people with a new disease is very disturbing. This is a maturing outbreak.”

He urged medical providers to be more open-minded about what might have caused new rashes they see and test patients for monkeypox. Unlike at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, monkeypox tests are in large supply.

Health leaders are working closely with the state’s LGBTQ Commission to reach out to LGBTQ+ communities, answer questions, share resources and quash misinformation and stigmatization, said Manny Santiago, the commission’s executive director.

“Viruses do not have a predetermined plan to impact one community over another,” Santiago said. “Both behaviors and the social contexts in which communicable diseases spread have much to do with the impact it is going to have on different communities.”

More information about monkeypox is available at the state Department of Health website and the Public Health – Seattle & King County website. Anyone who thinks they might have been exposed or infected can also call the state’s new monkeypox hotline, 833-829-4357, if they have questions about risk factors, vaccines, testing or treatment.

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