What Does the Monkeypox Outbreak Look Like for DC?

There are 344 confirmed cases in the district, and rising

Monkeypox lesions. Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

President Biden has declared a public health emergency as the cases of monkeypox continues to rise in the U.S. With D.C.’s first confirmed case announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser last July 25, there are about 15 new monkeypox cases everyday in the district. Here’s what D.C.’s top health official is saying about the outbreak, including everything you need to know about how the viral infection is spreading.

What Are DC Health Professionals Saying?

DC Health Interim Director Sharon Lewis.

Sharon Lewis, the interim director of the D.C. Health department, heads the local government’s response to the monkeypox outbreak. Among the loudest voices in public education on the virus is also Mayor Muriel Bowser. In an interview with WTOP News, Lewis said that the monkeypox virus can infect anyone and everybody must be aware of its symptoms. Per the recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), D.C. has 344 confirmed cases, ranking in the top 10 of all U.S. states. The district also records one of the highest cases per capita. D.C. Health has also announced that there 700 close contacts they are monitoring, apart from the confirmed cases. “Let me just use this as an opportunity to remind everybody to contact their physician, if they are displaying any symptoms or think they may have some skin condition that could be monkeypox, they should isolate, contact their doctor and get treatment,” Bowser told WTOP News.

In the United States as a whole, 94% of instances involved males who reported recent sexual or close personal contact with another guy. More over half of the instances (54%) were among Black and Hispanic persons, a group that accounts for roughly one-third (34%) of the total U.S. population. According to the CDC, the proportion of illnesses among Black persons has increased in recent weeks.

“Monkeypox does not know gender, so we all need to be aware of symptoms that we may see.”

Sharon Lewis, interim director of D.C. Health

How Is Monkeypox Caught?

According to D.C. Health, monkeypox is a rare, but potentially serious viral ailment that can be passed through direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids. It can spread through sexual contact. Additionally, it can be transmitted by respiratory secretions during face-to-face contact or when a person touches bedding or towels that have been used by someone who has monkeypox.

The first signs of monkeypox are flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, muscular pains, and enlarged lymph nodes, which are then followed by rashes and skin lesions. Monkeypox is extremely contagious, and unpleasant; although, majority of the cases do not need hospitalization. Even though monkeypox may infect anybody, most of the cases that are currently being treated in the district are in men who have engaged in sexual activity with a male partner. Mayor Bawser advises anyone who develops a rash that resembles monkeypox should consult their doctor about whether they should be tested, even if they do not believe they have had contact with someone who has monkeypox.

D.C. Mayor Mauriel Bowser.

What Can I Do to Lower My Risk of Getting Infected?

D.C. Health recommends that the public follow these simple steps to lower the risk of transmitting the monkeypox virus or getting infected. Most of the recommendations are similar to those issued for COVID-19.

  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Wear a face mask, especially if you’re in close contact a person who shows symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with persons who shows any of the monkeypox symptoms. 
  • Practice proper hand hygiene, especially following contact with sick — or suspected infected — people. 

Where Can I Get Vaccinated?

The D.C. Health department has received 21,755 doses of the FDA-approved Jynneos monkeypox vaccine, and it is available to anyone who has the highest risk of getting infected. The health department has announced that they are aligning their vaccination criteria with the CDC’s recommendations. The monkeypox vaccine is available for D.C. residents, workers, students, and individuals enrolled in any of D.C. Health’s programs who are 18 years old and either:

  • Had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks,
  • Are a sex worker, or
  • Are a staff at an establishement where sexual activity occurs like saunas, bathhouses and sex clubs.

The vaccine is open to anyone of all sexual identities, but the information bulletin from the state still lists men who have sex with men — including gay, bisexual, trans men, and trans women — to be at the highest risk of getting infected.

If you think you are eligible for the vaccine, you can pre-register at preventmonkeypox.dc.gov. D.C. Health states that anyone can pre-register the vaccine, but priority will be given to those who fall in the at-risk criteria. Walk-ins are also welcome at three vaccination clinics for those who cannot pre-register online, but the same elibigility criteria will apply. The location of the clinics are at:

  • 3640 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE – Ward 8
  • 7530 Georgia Ave NW – Ward 4
  • 1900 I St NW – Ward 2

Since the vaccine is only available to people living and working in D.C., proof of residency or work may be required. The mayor’s office lists the following as acceptable proof:

  • any I.D. indicating a D.C. address
  • utility bill or other mail with your name and a D.C. address
  • a current D.C. lease or mortgage with your name on it

As of last Saturday, more than 15,600 doses have already been administered. The D.C. government has also pre-registered 28,700 individuals for the vaccine and has put up pop-up vaccination sites to ensure equitable access to the vaccine.

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