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King County investigating first presumptive case of monkeypox in Washington state

UPDATED: Tue., May 24, 2022

This 2003 electron microscope image shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak.  (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
This 2003 electron microscope image shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
By Elise Takahama and Daisy Zavala Magaña Seattle Times

King County is investigating the first presumptive case of monkeypox in Washington state, public health officials said Monday.

Public Health of Seattle & King County received reports of the infection in a King County man Sunday, the department confirmed. He had recently traveled to a country where other monkeypox cases had been identified, county health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said. He declined to give further information about the patient during a Monday news conference.

The man was not hospitalized and is recovering at home.

There is no suspected outbreak locally and officials don’t believe there has been a high risk of exposure, according to Duchin, who said less than a dozen people who had close contact with the man have been identified.

Local health officials alerted the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies and will continue to watch for additional cases or potential exposure, he said.

Monkeypox, which has recently been identified in Europe and the United States, is a rare disease that can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or mucous membranes, including the eyes, nose and mouth, according to the CDC.

Monkeypox is usually rarely identified outside of Africa, but as of last week, there were 80 confirmed cases worldwide, including at least two in the U.S., and another 50 suspected cases, according to The Associated Press. On Sunday, one presumptive case of monkeypox also was being investigated in Broward County in South Florida, which state health officials said appeared to be related to international travel.

In the U.S., the disease is primarily spread through direct contact with skin lesions or infected rashes, Duchin said.

Though person-to-person transmission has been extremely rare in past outbreaks, it appears to be common in the current international outbreak, according to Duchin, which is concerning to health officials.

Monkeypox cases reported so far have been mild or moderate, and there have been no deaths linked to the disease, he said, adding that the public shouldn’t be concerned at this time – though they should be aware.

People who have recently traveled to central or West African countries, parts of Europe where cases have been reported or other areas with confirmed cases of monkeypox in the month before their symptoms began should contact their health care provider, public health officials said.

The disease can affect anyone. Those most at risk are those who have had close physical contact with someone with the disease. In the recent surge, cases have been reported to be prevalent among men who have had close or intimate contact with other men, Duchin said, though the risk is not limited to men who have sex with men.

The current risk to the general public is low, but people should be on the lookout for symptoms and risk factors, Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, the state’s chief science officer, said in a statement Monday.

Although the disease belongs to the same virus family as smallpox, its symptoms are milder. People usually recover within two to four weeks without hospitalization, but the disease occasionally is deadly.

Speaking in Tokyo on Sunday, President Joe Biden said the monkeypox threat, though concerning, doesn’t rise to the level of COVID-19.

Duchin called it an “unfortunate coincidence” that the outbreak is happening in the midst of COVID.

“I can’t predict how this is going to play out,” he said Monday. “We may see a significant number of additional cases, but I don’t think it’s going to be another global pandemic, or anything like we’re seeing with COVID-19.”

People who suspect they may be infected are asked to contact Public Health of Seattle & King County at 206-296-4774. Patients can also be evaluated at the county’s sexual health clinic, housed at Harborview Medical Center.

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