Status Update

What to Know about the Monkeypox Outbreak in Seattle

From symptoms and case counts to testing and vaccines.

By Angela Cabotaje

At the end of May, Public Health—Seattle and King County reported the first presumptive (later confirmed) case of monkeypox. We screamed a thousand internal screams before soothing ourselves with the fact that this disease doesn't seem to spread as easily as that other disease still ravaging the planet one subvariant at a time.

Then on July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, and on August 4, the United States designated the outbreak as a national health emergency. How did we get here, and where do things stand now?

Monkeypox cases in Seattle and King County

As of August 4, there are 146 confirmed cases of monkeypox in King County, with the first ones reported in Snohomish County and Pierce County earlier in July. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 174 total cases in Washington. That puts Washington in the top 10 states with confirmed monkeypox cases. New York has the most with 1,748; nationwide the CDC reports 7,102 cases. Worldwide there are about 26,860 cases.

Monkeypox symptoms

As a refresher, monkeypox symptoms are eerily familiar to Covid-19 and the flu. It starts with things like a fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes. After one to three days, a rash appears and progresses through sores, bumps, and fluid-filled bumps before scabbing over and healing. 

Some patients during the current outbreak have reported a rash without a fever; many note severe pain associated with the disease.

A typical bout of monkeypox can last from two to four weeks. Symptoms usually appear within one to two weeks after exposure, but the incubation period for the virus can be up to three weeks.

Monkeypox transmission

Like Covid, monkeypox can be spread via respiratory droplets (yet another reason to mask up) but, according to the CDC, it's largely being spread by direct contact, either with the rash or sores of an infected individual or with objects used by that person, such as bedding, clothing, or towels.

Monkeypox can affect anyone, regardless of gender or sexual identity. Focusing on dangerous and stigmatizing generalizations about the communities that have been most affected so far has shades of early HIV/AIDS public health messaging missteps.

Monkeypox testing

UW Medicine's virology lab, heroes back in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when testing was a mess, now offers testing for monkeypox. Unlike the proliferation of PCR tests today, though, the PCR test for monkeypox must be ordered through your doctor or other health care provider. Turnaround time is around one to two days.

Monkeypox vaccines

In early to mid-July, King County received 1,420 doses of the Jynneos vaccine, a two-dose vaccine to help prevent smallpox and monkeypox, from the Department of Health. When the shot is administered within four days of exposure, it has the best chance to prevent the disease. Then on July 27, the FDA approved an additional 786,000 doses to be made available nationally—King County will receive 3,300 of those doses—with more than a million doses to be released at a future date.

There aren't currently any plans for mass vaccination sites a la Covid boosters, but Public Health—Seattle and King County will hold a pop-up vaccine clinic at Seattle Central College (1701 Broadway, Room BE 1110) on August 6 from noon to 6pm. There will be enough doses to vaccinate 500 people; doses are free and no insurance is required.

These vaccines are being prioritized for those who meet eligibility criteria: people who've had sexual or close intimate contact with someone who has tested positive for monkeypox and those who are at high risk of recent exposure. For more specific vaccine eligibility requirements, visit Public Health's monkeypox vaccine site.

Officials anticipate there will be more demand than doses available at this particular event. Public Health says it hopes to offer additional pop-up events like this as more doses arrive from the federal government.

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