Maine health officials reported the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the state on Friday as the outbreak of the infectious disease continues to spread across the country.
The state’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the infected person as a male resident of York County and said no further information about the individual would be released. The Maine CDC said it is working to identify others who may have been exposed and to make the vaccination available to all close contacts.
The virus has spread around the world and approximately 2,600 cases have been identified in the United States. Maine was one of the last states to report a confirmed case of monkeypox. Only Vermont, Montana, Wyoming and Mississippi had not reported cases as of Thursday, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The disease is transmitted by close physical contact, including sexual contact, with an infected person.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said in an interview with the Press Herald on Friday that “the vast majority of cases were men having sex with men.”
“Based on what we know today, the risk to the general public is low,” Shah said.
He said the Maine CDC has been preparing for monkeypox cases for about six to eight weeks, partnering with health clinics that specialize in sexually transmitted infections and educating primary care physicians about signs to look out for, such as a distinctive skin rash accompanied by flu-like symptoms.
Shah said while sexual contact is a common way to transmit monkeypox, it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease. It is transmitted through close, intense, skin-to-skin contact, often through sexual contact, but also through other contact, such as kissing.
“The goal of the response is to reduce the likelihood of monkeypox moving to other populations, such as pregnant women and children,” Shah said.
Maine received a monkeypox vaccine called Jynneos from the federal government and has enough doses to vaccinate 311 people. The Maine CDC is making the vaccine available to close contacts of identified cases as well as people at risk of transmitting monkeypox or becoming seriously ill.
Shah said Maine likely won’t receive any more vaccines until mid-August, due to supply constraints, and it’s unclear how many more doses the state will receive. A good start would be to get about 2,000 doses, which would cover the US CDC estimate for people in Maine who are at high risk for monkeypox, such as those who have HIV or are at high risk of contracting HIV. But Shah said 2,000 is definitely an undercount of the population at risk for monkeypox.
People who believe they have been exposed or have a rash or new or unexplained lesions should contact a health care provider, according to a Maine CDC news release. Those with a rash who have a confirmed or suspected case of monkeypox should avoid sharing common items with others, such as towels, bedding, and utensils, in addition to avoiding close personal contact, including hugs, kisses and sexual contact.
Shah said for the men most at risk – those who have sex with other men – the public health advice is to be smart with sexual partners and avoid sexual contact with those who may have monkey pox.
Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses that causes smallpox. Monkeypox can be painful and disfiguring and, in rare cases, lead to serious illness and hospitalization. It is rarely fatal.
The current global monkeypox epidemic began in May. According to the US CDC’s Monkeypox Outbreak Tracker, as of July 21, 2022, there have been 2,593 identified cases of monkeypox in the United States and a total of 15,848 cases in 72 countries.
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