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Monkeypox outbreak growing but what's the risk to the public?
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Stacy Nickerson, MLT, prepares a monkeypox test kit Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, at Urgent Care Gainesville. The Department of Public Health has reported 4 cases of monkeypox in District 2 and the Northeast Georgia Health System has reported one case. - photo by Scott Rogers

Monkeypox cases are rising in Georgia, but local health officials say the general public is at low risk of contracting the virus. 

“The general public is really at no risk of getting Monkeypox,” said Zachary Taylor, public health director for District 2 of the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

The “general public” refers to those who “don't fall into this high-risk group, or they're not direct contacts of these patients who are infected in their homes,” he said. 

That high-risk group is men who have sex with other men. 

“The major mode of transmission in Georgia and frankly across the United States is intimate contact between men who have sex with men,” Taylor said. 

According to an Aug. 12 report by the Centers for Disease Control, 94% of monkeypox infections occurred in men who reported recent sexual or intimate contact with other men. 

DPH reported four cases in District 2, which covers more than a dozen counties in Northeast Georgia, including Hall. 

The Northeast Georgia Health System reported one positive case as of Thursday. 

Get a vaccine

To schedule a Monkeypox vaccine appointment, visit the Department of Public Health website, or call the Vaccine Scheduling Resource Line at 888-457-0186.

Georgia had 1,033 cases as of Wednesday. Of those cases, 1,022 occurred in men, according to DPH data. The majority of those men, 71%, were Black. 

Additionally, a “large proportion” of those who have been infected are people who are being treated for HIV, Taylor said. 

But for those who don’t fall into these groups, low risk doesn’t mean no risk. 

“If there's an infected monkeypox case in a household, it can be spread to other members of that household just through routine contact,” Taylor said. “So it's possible it can be transmitted to others, and we certainly expect that to happen. That's why we try to identify the contacts and vaccinate them before it does happen.” 

To schedule an appointment for the Jynneos vaccine, visit the DPH website, or call the Vaccine Scheduling Resource Line at 888-457-0186. 

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Stacy Nickerson, MLT, prepares a Monkey Pox test kit Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, at Urgent Care Gainesville. The Department of Public Health has reported 4 cases of monkey pox in District 2 and the Northeast Georgia Health System has reported one case. - photo by Scott Rogers

“It’s a vaccine for smallpox,” Taylor said. “It has been tested in Africa where, again, monkeypox is endemic, and it's about 85% effective at preventing monkeypox infections.” 

Supriya Mannepalli, director of infectious diseases for the Northeast Georgia Health System, urged anyone with an unusual rash to seek medical care. The rash can initially look like pimples or blisters, which some may mistake for a sexually transmitted disease. A person who tests positive for monkeypox needs to isolate until the lesions heal, she said, which can take up to three to four weeks. 

Monkeypox is rarely fatal, according to the CDC. No deaths have been reported in the U.S., and a dozen have been reported globally. 

The monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses that causes smallpox. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks, and most people recover on their own without treatment. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox. 

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Stacy Nickerson, MLT, prepares a monkeypox test kit Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, at Urgent Care Gainesville. The Department of Public Health has reported 4 cases of monkeypox in District 2 and the Northeast Georgia Health System has reported one case. - photo by Scott Rogers

The virus can spread through direct contact with the rash, scabs or body fluids, the CDC says. It also can be spread during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex. The incubation period is usually one to two weeks. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. declared a national emergency over the monkeypox outbreak. In July, the World Health Organization declared an international emergency. 

Last week, U.S. officials said they would stretch the nation’s limited supply of Jynneos monkeypox vaccine by giving people one-fifth the usual dose, injected just under the skin. Health officials have pointed to a study published in 2015 that found that the Jynneos vaccine administered that way was as effective at stimulating the immune system. 

Federal officials said they would release 442,000 doses for order by state, local and territorial health departments. That is in addition to the 630,000 doses already shipped. It is estimated that the U.S. would need about 3.2 million shots to vaccinate all those considered at highest risk of monkeypox.

Taylor said the monkeypox outbreak likely meets the definition of a pandemic. 

“But it's nothing like the COVID pandemic or an influenza pandemic,” he said. “I don't expect it to become a problem for the general public.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.