Monkeypox Cases Are Rising. Here’s How to Protect Your Workplace

The Biden administration this week announced plans to expand access to monkeypox virus vaccinations and testing as cases begin to rise across the country.

People who may have been exposed to the virus will now have access to vaccinations, which will be available through public health outlets, such as health clinics. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will dispense 56,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine, which helps prevent both smallpox and monkeypox, to regions with high case counts and where more at-risk populations reside. The White House says that it anticipates 1.6 million doses will be accessible this year. Doses are administered four weeks apart and someone is considered to have protection two weeks after their second dose.

The first confirmed case of monkeypox was detected on May 18, the White House says, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 300 cases nationwide as of June 29.

Dr. Matthew Hamill of Johns Hopkins’s Division of Infectious Diseases explains that monkeypox’s primary mode of transmission is through skin-to-skin contact–including sexually–though he adds that the virus can also be transmitted through unwashed bedding and towels, or sharing normal household equipment like cups and plates.

For workplaces, the protocols around monkeypox are different from Covid-19. Take the case of someone who tests positive for monkeypox and was working in an office two days prior. Hamill explains that if that person normally wears long sleeves, long pants, and a mask–and they didn’t touch anyone or anything–the risk of spreading monkeypox within that office remains quite low.

But that risk could creep up if, say, that person is sitting in close quarters with their colleagues in a conference room for most of the day. “Transmission depends on what the risk of that situation is, the proximity, the duration, whether people were masked or not, and whether there was skin-to-skin contact,” Hamill says.

Though anyone can get monkeypox, the current outbreak in the U.S. is mostly found among gay men. Some of the symptoms of monkeypox mimic those of other viruses, such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes, but one of the more common symptoms of monkeypox is a rash that resembles either pimples or blisters.

Typically, those who contract monkeypox can expect the infection to run its course for two to three weeks. “A person will typically develop a rash, isolate at home, gradually improve, and be considered no longer infectious when all of their skin lesions have scabbed over,” Hamill says. A fresh layer of intact skin underneath is a signal that a patient can socialize again. Though most people fully recover from the monkeypox virus, it is potentially lethal, although no one has died from the current outbreak in the U.S., according to the Cleveland Clinic.

According to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, monkeypox is less transmissible than Covid-19. But the organization emphasizes that monkeypox won’t die out on its own. That’s why U.S. health officials are acting aggressively to contain the contagion.

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