NSights Blog

School of Public Health provides insight on monkeypox outbreak in Washoe County

Addressing potential misinformation and what you need to know to stay safe

Washoe County Health District has confirmed a handful of monkeypox cases here locally. A few days after the announcement of the first local case on July 21, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, declared the current monkeypox outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on July 23, 2022. The good news is that the virus is preventable, treatment is available and it is rarely fatal. The unfortunate news is that various negative stigmas surrounding minority communities are interfering with proper disease management.

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by an infection from the monkeypox virus. It is not a new virus, as it was first detected in a group of laboratory monkeys in 1958. It comes from the same family as smallpox and no deaths have been reported in the US as of the date on this article. The most common symptoms include the following:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and back aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Rash on the face, inside the mouth or other parts of the body such as the feet, hands or chest

Recovery usually lasts 2-4 weeks and isolation is recommended until all symptoms have cleared. In addition, antiviral drugs and vaccines developed against smallpox can also be used to treat symptoms of monkeypox. This means anyone who has already received the smallpox vaccine will have stronger protection against the disease. While a monkeypox vaccine does exist, it is not widely accessible to the general public yet. The Health District is actively working with both state and federal partners to collect additional vaccines.

Monkeypox can be spread in many different ways. The most common is through physical contact including face to face or intimate contact, touching an infected piece of clothing/bedding and touching an infectious rash. Additionally, it can be spread through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. Because most infections occur through direct contact, chances of contracting monkeypox by being out in public are low. However, it is still a considerable public health concern.

It has been announced that cases of monkeypox are more common among Black and Hispanic people, as well as gay and bisexual men in the United States. We want to address any potential misinformation or harmful stigmas. First, it is still unknown whether or not the virus spreads through genital fluids. Second, monkeypox can also infect anyone including women or children. It’s disappointing that in this day and age where diversity, equity and inclusion have finally made it into mainstream conversation, that we often still see that stigmas are what stop the progress of informed decision-making and health equity. We need to separate stigma from health. Situations such as contracting a disease should not be used as fuel for discrimination nor should it make anyone feel reluctant or unsafe about coming forward about their illness to seek treatment.

For the past two years, the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Public Health has been tasked with training disease investigators, conducting studies on methods for controlling the spread of disease, organizing community vaccine clinics and acting as a reliable source of health communication. Our behavior risk surveillance systems (BRFSS, YRBS and PRAMS) also monitor behaviors that relate to infectious disease prevention including vaccines, risk perceptions and some risk exposure behaviors in Nevada. With this wealth of knowledge and experience gained in dealing with COVID-19 and the improvements made to the state’s public health infrastructure since then, we believe that Nevada is well equipped to deal with any challenges that may come from this recent outbreak.

No matter how the monkeypox outbreak may or may not affect our community, we encourage everyone to avoid physical contact in situations where infection could be present, use plenty of soap and water to wash your hands and most importantly, be kind. For more information, we encourage you to regularly check the CDC, WHO and the Washoe County Health District as new developments occur. 

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