Coloradan believed to have monkeypox, but public risk is low

Colorado identified its first possible case of monkeypox on Thursday, but the risk to the public remains low, the state health department said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the patient is a young man from the Denver area who recently had traveled to Canada, which is dealing with a monkeypox outbreak. The patient is cooperating, and the state health department will notify people who could have been exposed.

The case is considered presumptive until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that monkeypox is causing the patient’s symptoms. The CDC has identified nine cases in Florida, Utah, California, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Washington.

The patient is isolating at home and his symptoms are improving, the state health department said. Most people who have this strain of monkeypox recover in two to four weeks.

Monkeypox doesn’t spread particularly easily. People can get it through large respiratory droplets, which require prolonged face-to-face contact, or through touching open lesions or contaminated items like bedsheets.

Symptoms of monkeypox include a fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and a distinctive rash. The lesions are typically circular and start off flat, then rise as they fill with fluid. They often have an indentation in the middle.

In previous outbreaks, the rash typically started on the face and arrived one to three days after non-specific symptoms like fever. This time, however, some patients don’t feel sick before the rash develops, and find it first in the genital or anal area, where it might be mistaken for herpes or other more-common diseases.

“We want to reassure Coloradans that the risk to the public is low, but we also want them to know of the symptoms so that we can catch other cases as soon as possible,” state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said in a news release. “We are grateful for the collaborative efforts of the CDC, local public health agencies and health care providers in learning about, treating and investigating this case.”

Men who have sex with men have been disproportionately affected in the current outbreak, though it’s not clear if that reflects true prevalence, or a greater willingness to seek care for sexual health concerns. The virus isn’t transmitted through semen or vaginal fluids, though it could spread between partners through lesions on the infected person’s skin.

Symptoms can show up anywhere from five to 21 days after exposure.

The virus is endemic in west and central Africa, and is currently spreading in the United Kingdom, Canada, Portugal and Spain.

People who develop symptoms after travel to those countries, or after close contact with someone who recently traveled there, should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. The state health department advised men who have sex with men to be particularly vigilant.

Vaccines developed for smallpox can be effective against monkeypox, but at this point, only people who’ve been exposed to a patient need to be vaccinated.

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