A suspected case of monkeypox virus is under investigation in Santa Clara County, the Public Health Department said in a statement on Thursday.
The person, who traveled internationally, has preliminarily tested positive after seeking medical care. The case was reported to the county Public Health Department, which is working with the state of California Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The county Public Health Department is awaiting confirmation from the CDC.
The patient is in isolation and the county is contacting people who might have been in close contact with the person. Additional details about the individual won't be released for reasons of medical privacy, county officials said.
Monkeypox is a rare disease. Symptoms typically include a fever, intense headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, swollen lymph nodes and a skin rash or lesions. The rash usually begins within one to three days of the start of a fever. Lesions can be flat or slightly raised, filled with clear or yellowish fluid, and can then crust, dry up and fall off. The number of lesions range from a few to several thousand. The rash tends to be concentrated on the face, palms of the hands and soles of the feet but can also be found on the mouth, genitals and eyes. It can last for two to four weeks, according to the World Health Organization.
Dr. Monika Roy, the county's communicable disease controller and assistant health officer, said during a Thursday afternoon press conference that the overall risk of monkeypox to the general population is low. It spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact with someone who has active lesions and bodily fluids such as respiratory droplets.
The overall risk of monkeypox to the general population is low, county health leaders said. People who suspect they might have been exposed to monkeypox or have the characteristic rash or other symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately, the county said.
Public health departments follow up with individuals who might have come in close contact with people contagious with monkeypox and work with community organizations and medical providers to ensure that the community receives information about prevention and suspected cases are reported for testing, the county said.
"We encourage medical providers to be on the lookout for monkeypox infections, which develop with a characteristic rash. Gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by this virus in our region, and we stand together with these communities to support residents in protecting themselves and taking care of their health," Roy said in the statement.
Although the situation is evolving, there's currently no recommendation for large community vaccination programs to prevent the disease. The mode of transmission is much lower than for COVID-19 and monkeypox is unlikely to become a pandemic such as COVID-19, which spreads easily through the air, she added.
Health officials do anticipate there will be more cases, however, she said.
There are currently no reported cases of monkeypox in San Mateo County, county health officials said in a joint statement Thursday with their counterparts in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sonoma counties and the city of Berkeley. They urged the public to protect themselves against the monkeypox virus.
"Many of the cases currently appearing are within networks of self-identified gay and bisexual men, trans people, and men who have sex with men. People in these networks are currently at higher risk, though people of any sexual orientation or gender identity can become infected and spread monkeypox. Public awareness is important as the disease could spread within potentially larger groups or networks of people," the health officials said.
"Having sex with multiple sex partners can increase a person’s risk of becoming infected when monkeypox is spreading in the community. Be aware of crowded, indoor spaces where people have close skin-to-skin contact, sex, kissing, and close breathing. The virus can also be spread through shared clothing or bedding."
The health officials urged the media, government officials and the community at-large to avoid stigmatizing a particular group or person for monkeypox. They encouraged supporting those at highest risk and keeping others from becoming complacent.
Other contagious illnesses can also cause rash or skin lesions, such as syphilis and herpes, which are much more common than monkeypox, can appear similar and should be treated too, health officials said.
"Even with the low public risk of monkeypox, it's important to be aware of the signs of infection," San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow said in the joint statement. "Anyone experiencing symptoms should stay home and contact their health care provider right away."
The public can protect themselves from monkeypox by taking the following preventive measures:
• Consider covering exposed skin in dense, indoor crowds.
• Don't share bedding and clothing with others.
• Talk to close physical contacts about their general health, such as recent rashes or sores.
• Stay aware if traveling to countries where there are outbreaks.
Anyone who has symptoms, particularly a rash consistent with monkeypox, or has been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox are advised to:
• Stay home if they're feeling sick.
• Contact a health care provider as soon as possible for an evaluation.
• Avoid skin-to-skin, or close contact with others, including sexual contact, until a medical evaluation has been completed.
• Inform sex partners about any symptoms.
• Cover the rash with clean, dry, loose-fitting clothing.
• Wear a well-fitted mask.
Anyone contacted by public health officials are asked to answer their confidential questions to help protect others who may have been exposed.
Updated information about monkeypox in Santa Clara County can be found at publichealth.sccgov.org. San Mateo County has provided information on the disease at smchealth.org.
Additional information can be found through the Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and on the CDC's Social Gatherings, Safer Sex webpage.