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Although the current threat to Vermonters from the monkeypox virus is extremely low at this time, the state Health Department on Tuesday planned to issue an informational health advisory to medical providers, outlining measures for identifying the virus and next-steps if a case appears likely.

“We’ve had no reported cases in Vermont,” said Dr. Natalie Kwit, epidemiologist and the state public health veterinarian with the Health Department. However, she said, one case was found in Massachusetts, and clusters of monkeypox have appeared in countries that do not typically experience the virus — usually Central and West African nations.

“We are seeing cases in people who have not traveled to those countries,” she said. Cases have been found in Montreal and Europe, for example, which is unusual.

Monkeypox is a rare but potentially serious viral illness that typically begins with flu-like symptoms and swelling of the lymph nodes, and progresses to a widespread rash on the face and body, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control said. The virus got its name after being discovered in 1958 in colonies of monkeys.

The CDC confirmed in a statement the monkeypox case that was identified earlier this month in Massachusetts. Federal health authorities worked with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to investigate the situation, determining the patient recently had traveled to Canada.

The virus can spread through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores or shared items (such as clothing and bedding) that have been contaminated with fluids or sores of a person with monkeypox, the CDC said. Monkeypox virus can also spread between people through respiratory droplets typically in a close setting, such as the same household or a health care center.

Common household disinfectants can kill the monkeypox virus.

Kwit said there are three groups considered more vulnerable to monkeypox: men with lesions who have had sex with other men; people who have traveled and might have been exposed in the previous month; and those who have come in contact with someone with monkeypox.

She said historically the virus has been considered serious, with a fatality rate of between 1 percent and 10 percent. But the current outbreak appears less severe.

“It’s a self-limiting version, and most people recover without treatment,” Kwit said. The risk to the public is low, but anyone who could be at risk and has symptoms — including rashes or legions — should contact their medical provider.

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Kwit said the Health Department’s advisory to Vermont medical providers mirrors advice from the CDC:

• If health care providers identify patients with a rash that looks like monkeypox, consider monkeypox a possibility, regardless of whether the patient has a travel history to central or west African countries.

• Do not limit concerns to men who report having sex with other men. Those who have any sort of close, personal contact with people with monkeypox could potentially be at risk for the disease.

• Some patients have had genital lesions, and the rash might be hard to distinguish from syphilis, herpes simplex virus infection and other more common infections.

• Isolate any patients suspected of having monkeypox in a negative pressure room, and ensure staff understand the importance of wearing appropriate personal protective equipment each time they are near suspected cases.

• Consult the Vermont Health Department or the CDC’s monkeypox call center through the Emergency Operations Center (770-488-7100) as soon as monkeypox is suspected.

If a case is found here, Kwit said the Vermont Health Department will work closely with the CDC and medical providers to address it. The Vermont Health Department would conduct preliminary testing at its lab, and if positive, send the sample to the CDC for confirmation, as well as perform contact tracing and assisting with vaccination and treatment. There is no specific vaccine for monkeypox, although the smallpox vaccine — which is largely out of use since the disease was essentially eradicated around 1980 — can be effective.

Asked if health officials felt it was not if, but when, a case would be detected in Vermont, Kwit responded, “It’s still a matter of ‘if.’ It’s not super-easily transmitted like respiratory viruses.”

She anticipates people turning to health care providers with monkeypox worries that are unfounded.

“The COVID pandemic has made people more aware of infectious diseases,” she said.


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