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LA County Likely Has First Case Of Monkeypox

Round and spherical shapes appear in gray on a white background.
A microscopic view of monkeypox virions.
(Courtesy CDC)
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A potential case of monkeypox has been identified in Los Angeles County, likely part of a recent outbreak of cases worldwide.

The unidentified adult L.A. County resident is symptomatic but has not been hospitalized, and is isolating at home while awaiting confirmation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The person recently traveled domestically and is a close contact to another person with monkeypox. L.A. County health officials did not specify where the L.A. resident traveled or the timeframe.

The Background

Europe is experiencing a rare outbreak of the disease, which has led to more than 250 confirmed infections in 23 countries around the globe, according to the World Health Organization. No deaths have been reported.

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Monkeypox is far less contagious than COVID-19, which is spread through aerosol droplets in the air. That’s a big reason public health officials, including at the World Health Organization, are expressing confidence that monkeypox cases will not suddenly skyrocket.

"Am I worried that we're going to have a massive outbreak of monkeypox? No, there's no indication at this time," said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a Thursday press conference.

She said health workers have been alerted to keep monkeypox in mind and to test patients with unusual rashes.

"Some of the lesions associated with monkeypox can look like something else, so we're working very closely with the provider community so that they do a thorough interview [with the patient] to make sure that they're ruling out monkeypox," Ferrer said. "Or if it can't be ruled out that they're, in fact, submitting a specimen to the lab for testing."

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California and multiple other states have confirmed or suspected moneypox cases, according to the CDC.

Health officials say the risk to the general public remains low.

In late May, a person in Sacramento County who recently traveled from Europe became California’s first confirmed case related to the most recent global outbreak. Two close contacts of that person are now suspected cases.

What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is caused by a member of the same family of viruses as smallpox, although it’s much less severe and experts say chances of infection are low.

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Although this version of monkeypox isn't usually deadly, it can cause a nasty illness that lasts for several weeks. Typically, people have a fever, muscle aches and then a rash on their face, mouth, hands and possibly genitals.

Ferrer said monkeypox requires very close contact to spread or prolonged physical contact with clothes or bedding that was used by an infected person.

In a statement from the health department, she cited possible sources as “items that have been contaminated with fluids or with the storage of clothing, bedding, or through respiratory droplets, [like] prolonged face-to-face contact.”

The current global outbreak is unusual because not all cases are linked to travel to countries where monkeypox is continually present, such as west and central Africa.

The smallpox vaccine is said to be about 85% effective against monkeypox, although that effectiveness wanes over time.

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Meanwhile, the coronavirus is continuing to infect thousands of people a day. About 4,300 people a day are testing positive for COVID-19. Test positivity continues to rise. It's now up to 5.3% — that's two and a half times higher than just a month ago. The number of people in the hospital with COVID has risen to 480 patients countywide. On average, eight people die each day in L.A. County due to COVID.

"We're likely to move into the CDC high community level within a few weeks towards the end of June," Ferrer said Thursday. "There is no certainty with this date ... hospital admission rates could increase at a faster rate."

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Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.