No cases of monkeypox in Alaska yet, but health officials are preparing for the disease’s arrival



A black and white image of
This electron microscope image shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions (left) and spherical immature virions (right) obtained from a sample of human skin associated with a 2003 prairie dog outbreak. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Alaska has not yet confirmed a case of monkeypox, but state health officials are preparing a response for the disease.

“We’re expecting our first case any day now,” Alaska state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said on Monday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US has over 3,000 confirmed cases in 45 states so far. The World Health Organization declared it a global health emergency on Saturday.

McLaughlin said so far nine Alaskans have been tested for monkeypox, and all were negative. Seven have been vaccinated. He said the state currently has enough vaccine doses for just 50 people and only five courses of antiviral treatment.

“Nationally there’s only a very limited supply of vaccines,” he said.

Vaccines have been distributed to states based on their population and the number of infections they’ve recorded.

McLaughlin said the federal government is expected to send more vaccine doses to Alaska soon. Plus, once the state sees its first case, additional vaccines and treatment courses are expected to come in fairly quickly, he said. The state will use its existing vaccine distribution network to get doses out to rural areas as needed.

The state is also educating public health nurses and other health care providers in how to identify, test and treat monkeypox cases, said McLaughlin.

“This is really a disease that health care providers in the United States generally have not seen before, unless they worked in West Africa or Central Africa where there is monkeypox circulating,” he said.

Monkeypox is a viral disease transmitted most often through skin-to-skin contact. It produces fever, aches and fatigue, plus sometimes a rash resembling pus-filled blisters. The CDC reports the type of monkeypox identified in this outbreak is rarely fatal, with over 99% of infected people likely to survive.

Currently, vaccines are being prioritized for people with a known exposure to someone who tested positive for monkeypox. People who have had or may have high risk exposures — for example, having multiple sexual partners, especially among men who have sex with men — in areas where monkeypox is circulating are next on the priority list for vaccination, said McLaughlin.

If you have symptoms or a known exposure to monkeypox, McLaughlin said it’s important to reach out to a health care provider immediately and isolate yourself from others. He’s also urging health care providers to test liberally, even in cases where they think monkeypox is unlikely.

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