OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As images of the unsightly looking rash make their rounds, local health experts told KFOR Wednesday there is no need for pandemic panic, yet.
“I think the risk is very low right now in Oklahoma.”
In a public session Monday, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top monkeypox expert confirmed that the disease was not spreading at pandemic levels, but indicated a host of unknowns about the disease, including how exactly it’s spreading and whether the suspension of mass smallpox immunization decades ago may somehow be speeding its transmission.
“One thing that’s important to understand is that this is not exactly like coronavirus,” said David L Holden, M.D.
“Coronavirus is truly airborne,” added the physician, who currently serves as President of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
“We had no idea who had it, who didn’t. It could be spreading it, think they have a cold or something else. Whereas monkeypox, the symptoms are much more dramatic. And of course the rash is the telltale sign, but they do stay symptomatic and transmissible for up to three weeks. So, I think it behooves us in Oklahoma to be sure and recognize that it is an issue.”
“From a historic standpoint, monkeypox is simply one variation of what we call orthopox viruses,” said Holden, adding that this is not the first time that monkeypox has gotten out, yet identifying its similarities with broader orthopox viruses.
“It had gotten out previously,” he said, referring to the disease.
“The difference has been that this seems to have been a much broader explosion of cases in multiple countries,” he continued. “I’ve studied smallpox in the past that it can be airborne in the sense that if you shake a blanket out that someone has been wearing that is infected, the particles off that blanket are contaminated. And if you breathe that or come in contact with those, theoretically it is airborne in that sense,” he continued.
Scientists with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said they’ve been tracking cases of monkeypox reported in countries around the world that haven’t typically seen cases of the disease, according to a recently released travel notice.
“There’s only been a few cases here in the United States. And a very heavy investigation of those cases have indicated a lot of them have had exposure overseas or had travel history or have had contact with somebody who had one of those risk factors,” said Jolianne Stone, MPH, and State Epidemiologist for the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
KFOR previously reported the number of monkeypox cases at 18, according to data provided by the CDC data. However, since that update, the latest data provided by the health organization shows the total confirmed monkeypox/orthopoxvirus cases as 19.
The health experts said while the public health risk is relatively low, Oklahomans should still be watchful, particularly if they’ve traveled out of the state.
“We just have to be vigilant and we have to recognize, you know, our society is somewhat fragile the way we exist now, the way we travel, the way we interact in mass crowds,” said Dr. Holden. “If you’re not traveling [and] a case pops up in Oklahoma somewhere in the state, you’ll know that needs to be watched closely.
“That’s where the state health department can move in and isolate those people,” he added.
Jolianne Stone said from the state’s perspective there’s also a plan in place to address the public health concern, if cases are identified in Oklahoma.
“We have a plan to get that person tested and to make sure that we protect those contacts around them and the individuals in the community,” she said. “If you’ve had close physical contact with somebody who might have had a rash or has had exposure to monkeypox and you think you might be at risk, certainly contact your health care provider and we could work with them on getting testing.”