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Monkeypox cases increasing in Utah; still very low risk for most Utahns

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SALT LAKE CITY — Monkeypox is now a national public health emergency and Utah is seeing more cases. But epidemiologists stress that this infection is circulating primarily in a specific population.

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services and local health departments are working to educate and protect that population.

Since May, 43 confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox have been reported in Utah — the vast majority of those in Salt Lake County. As of Aug. 3, the state is reporting 34 cases in Salt Lake County, two cases in Davis County, four cases in Utah County, and three cases in the Weber/Morgan district.

"We are seeing a number of monkeypox cases, and they are increasing in the most recent week," said Dr. Leisha Nolen, state epidemiologist. "We're seeing more transmission, more cases."

While monkeypox is primarily infecting men who have sex with men, it can be spread to anyone with close skin-to-skin contact.

"In Utah, our cases are related to intimate contact," she said.

"Think intimate contact. Think sustained, close contact to someone who has an active monkeypox infection," said Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician with Intermountain Healthcare.

Nolen said local health departments are working to slow transmission within high-risk communities by identifying infections early, limiting exposures, and vaccinating people at the highest risk.

"We are all hoping that we can cut this off before it gets more widespread, and that we can keep it from being a long-term infection," she said.

"The risk of monkeypox to most people in the community is little to zero right now. It's very heavily focused on a very specific group within our community: men who have sex with men," Webb said.

Vaccine is in short supply. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allocated Utah fewer than 6,300 doses over the next two months, without another allocation until October.

Webb said antiviral treatment Tecovirimat, or TPOXX, is making a difference.

"We've already started using it in Utah," he said. "We have treated multiple patients with this particular antiviral with some success."

He's optimistic that it will speed up recovery, help control pain, and resolve the rash.

"I think we've really been on top of it," Nolen said. "We've identified cases very early in the pandemic, which I think shows how well our physicians are watching, and also how well our public health departments work with those physicians."

People with symptoms of monkeypox should get tested, get evaluated by a doctor, and isolate.

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Jed Boal


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