Oregon health officials gave an update Thursday on the spread of the monkeypox virus which has been reported in Oregon and across the country.
As of Aug. 11, Oregon had reported 95 confirmed cases of monkeypox — officially known as hMPXV — in the state. Ninety-two of those infected are men and three are women.
That's a small fraction of the approximately 9,500 cases reported nationwide, including Washington, D.C. and Puetro Rico.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, a health officer and state epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority, said monkeypox is not nearly as contagious as COVID-19, which can be spread through the air. Monkeypox requires close personal contract, such as prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including through sex, kissing or massage. Contact with towels, clothing, or other objects used by someone infected can also spread the virus.
Symptoms include lesions and rashes that spread and may be painful. Sidelinger said anyone can contact monkeypox, although the vast majority of cases so far have been gay or bisexual men.
Fortunately, Sidelinger said, like COVID-19, there are safe vaccinations for monkekpox already available, although in limited supply. New shipments are expected to arrive in coming weeks.
Like with COVID-19, anyone who believes they have been exposed to monkeypox should contact their health care providers and isolate for 14 days,
Sidelinger was joined by Patrick Luedtke, M.D., Lane County's senior public health officer, and Katie Cox, executive director of The Equi Institute, which works to enrich the health of the trans, queer, intersex and gender diverse communities.
On Aug 8, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown urged all Oregonians to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
"I am urging all Oregonians to take steps to protect yourself and others from hMPXV," she said. "If you're planning to attend a festival, concert, party, or other event, consider the amount of close, personal, and skin-to-skin contact that may occur. If you are feeling sick and have symptoms like a new rash, avoid close skin-to-skin contact, and call your health care provider or 2-1-1 if you think you may have been exposed."
Brown said the U.S. has an "ugly history" of ignoring diseases that impact the LGBTQ+ community, including the spread of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s.
"I remember the early days of the HIV epidemic, when a generation of gay men was dying and the government did not seem to care. It took years before there was general recognition from the public that HIV, like all viruses, spreads indiscriminately," Brown said.
Oregon insurers are now required to cover the cost of monkeypox vaccination administration for their health plan members in Oregon, based on a declaration of a disease outbreak from Oregon Health Authority.
According to federal and state health officials, monkeypox vaccines are vital prevention measures that also can slow the spread of monkeypox and eventually bring this outbreak to an end. The new insurance coverage requirement removes financial barriers to vaccination, such as requiring people to pay costs of administering the vaccines.
"We know more vaccines are coming from the federal government. We're doing everything we can to keep people safe and encourage people to take common sense precautions — like getting vaccinated when they're eligible and supplies are available — so we can all prevent monkeypox from spreading," Sidelinger said.
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