Communicable disease expert breaks down Monkeypox and its impact on our region

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 10:05 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - On Monday, the Biden Administration planned to name a Monkeypox coordinator. This comes just two months after the United States confirmed its first case, and now, the president is also considering declaring the outbreak a public health emergency. However, local health leaders aren’t sounding the alarm in the bi-state area.

“We want the public to know Monkeypox does exist,” Nebu Kolenchery said.

Kolenchery’s the Director for Communicable Disease Response for the St. Louis County Public Health Department. He said although they’re spreading the word about the virus, they’re not panicking.

“It’s not like COVID-19 for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a different disease in how it’s transmitted. The second is very few people end up in the hospital,” Kolenchery explained.

Monkeypox symptoms include fever, fatigue, and almost always, lesions. Those lesions can start on your face and then spread throughout your body.

“We both have vaccines and treatments available for the disease already,” Kolenchery said.

The communicable disease expert said Monkeypox is transmitted in three ways. Very close and long respiratory exposure, touching someone’s lesion on their body, and using or touching the towels or linens of a person with active Monkeypox.

“In this particular outbreak, the majority of cases are seen among men who have sex with men. We’re most likely going to define high-risk people as gay or bi-sexual men that have engaged in certain high-risk behaviors such as transactional sex, sex with anonymous partners, or attending an event where they may have had exposure,” Kolenchery explained.

St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, and St. Clair County, Illinois health departments all have access to the Monkeypox vaccine. However, we’re told only people who have had direct exposure are eligible.

“In the coming months, we anticipate the supply will increase and once that supply increases, we’ll open it up to more than that,” Kolenchery added.

Kolenchery and other health professionals we talked to said there’s no need to panic or rush to get vaccinated. As of Monday, the CDC reports eight active Monkeypox cases in Missouri. In Illinois, 344 people have tested positive.

“If you take the right steps to protect yourself, and are familiar with how it spreads, and who spreads it, and seek treatment when you have it, I think we can all get through this together,” Kolenchery assured.

If you think you may have Monkeypox, contact your local health department. Health officials said you can only be tested for the disease if you have a physical lesion on your body to swab. That testing can be done at any healthcare facility such as urgent care or your primary care physician.