On Thursday, the Biden administration declared monkeypox a national public health emergency. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also declared monkeypox a public health emergency of “international concern.”
While case numbers are still low in the immediate Kansas City area, local experts warn that the virus is spreading rapidly around the country.
“What gives me some unease about monkeypox is how explosively case numbers have grown in the U.S. as compared to the rest of the world,” said Dr. Amber Schmidtke, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at The University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, in a news briefing Monday. “It almost feels like March 2020 again… it seems like the national response is a little bit flat-footed.”
Monkeypox is a viral disease that can cause a skin rash, weakness, fatigue, fever and flu-like symptoms. It is named after the skin lesions it can cause, which often look like pimples or blisters. It can be extremely painful but is usually not deadly.
So far during this outbreak, monkeypox is predominantly spreading among men who have sex with men. However, the disease can spread to anyone of any gender or sexuality through many types of physical contact, not just sex.
The Star consulted local health departments and doctors to find out what to know about this virus in the Kansas City area. The information around the outbreak and the public health response is changing quickly, so we’ll continue reporting.
How many monkeypox cases are in Kansas City?
As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 12 cases of monkeypox in Missouri and one in Kansas. There are a total of around 6,617 cases nationwide. As of last week, two cases were tied to the Kansas City area.
“These diseases don’t understand geographic borders,” Schmidkte added. “We should be as prepared as we can for those cases to potentially go up here in Kansas City.”
How does monkeypox spread?
According to the CDC, monkeypox spreads through physical contact with rash, scabs or body fluids. Avoiding skin-to-skin contact with an infected person will help keep you safe from the virus. People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others.
Monkeypox can be transmitted through sex, but that does not make it a sexually transmitted disease. Sex is simply one of the many forms of physical contact that can spread the virus. It can infect anyone of any age or sexual orientation, but so far this outbreak is spreading mostly among networks of gay and bisexual men.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) recommends taking the following steps to stay safe:
Avoid skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
Do not handle or touch the bedding, towels or clothing of a person who knows they have monkeypox.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
How do I get tested for monkeypox?
There are two ways to get tested for monkeypox: through your local health department, or through a private lab. Local health officials also recommend contacting your health care provider.
In order to qualify for free health department testing, you must be able to meet one of the following four criteria:
Had contact with a person or persons with a similar appearing rash or with a person who has received a diagnosis of confirmed or probable monkeypox.
Had close, intimate or sexual in-person contact with persons in a social network experiencing monkeypox infections.
Traveled, within 21 days of illness onset, outside the United States to a country with confirmed cases of monkeypox or where the monkeypox virus is endemic.
Had contact with a dead or live wild animal or exotic pet that is a species native only to Africa, or used a product derived from such animals (e.g., game meat, creams, lotions, powders, etc.)
If you meet any of these criteria, call your local health department to get tested. They can help you schedule an appointment to collect a sample of fluid from a lesion on your body. If you don’t have any, you can’t get tested: A KDHE spokesperson told The Star that “testing cannot be done until an individual develops rash-like symptoms.”
This sample will then be tested by a state lab, like the State Public Health Lab in Jefferson City, at no cost.
Here are the numbers to contact your local health department
Kansas City Health Department number for communicable disease and prevention: 816-513-6152
Jackson County Health Department: 816-404-6415
Clay County Health Department: 816-595-4200
Platte County Health Department: 816-858-2412
Johnson County Health Department: 913-715-2819
Wyandotte County Health Department: 913-573-8855
Can I still get tested if I don’t meet these criteria?
If none of the criteria above apply to you, you can still get tested for monkeypox– but it might cost you something. Kansas City Health Department spokesperson Michelle Pekarsky told The Star that patients who don’t meet these criteria can call their primary care doctors to get tested through a private laboratory company.
The companies currently offering monkeypox testing are Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare. She advised checking with your insurance company in advance to see if it will cover the cost of this testing.
If you don’t have any skin lesions, you can’t be tested for monkeypox.
How can I get a vaccine for monkeypox in Kansas City?
Currently, two-dose monkeypox vaccines are only being given to people who have been exposed within the last 14 days but do not yet have symptoms. You don’t need to have a positive monkeypox test in order to obtain a vaccine, but you do need to prove certain or “likely” contact with someone else who has had a positive test.
Vaccines are not being given to healthy people to prevent the disease, to people who were exposed more than 14 days ago or to people already showing symptoms of the disease like a fever, rash or skin lesions. Learn more about the symptoms of monkeypox here.
If you have been exposed to monkeypox or have a positive test, the CDC recommends isolating at home to prevent spreading the disease to others. Isolation should last until all skin lesions or rashes have healed completely. If you aren’t sure how long to isolate, contact your local health department for further guidance.
How many monkeypox vaccines are available?
As of last week, the state of Missouri had access to enough vaccines for 1,214 people. They are distributed between five regional “hubs” in the state. Missouri officials expect more shipments in the coming weeks from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Kansas City is one of Missouri’s five hubs, and is responsible for supplying vaccinations to everyone in the northwestern portion of the state. As of last week, it had access to enough vaccines for around 450 people. The Kansas City Health department had administered three vaccines as of July 27.
The state of Kansas had access to enough vaccines for 108 people as of July 27. Two doses had been administered as of last week. It’s unknown when the state will get more vaccines, or how many it may receive.
“I think we need to roll out more vaccination and the ability for anyone to go get vaccinated against smallpox, which does provide protection against monkeypox,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at The University of Kansas Health System, in Monday’s briefing. “I also understand there are logistics [and] supply issues with that vaccine.”
Do you have more questions about staying safe from monkeypox in Kansas City? Ask the Service Journalism team at firstname.lastname@example.org.