Monkeypox in Utah: Officials report 2 suspected cases in Salt Lake County

“Both individuals are in isolation and do not present a risk to the public,” officials advised.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, speaks about two suspected cases of monkeypox identified in Salt Lake County during a news conference on Monday, May 23, 2022.

Two adults in the same Salt Lake County household are suspected to have monkeypox based on preliminary testing, Salt Lake County Health Department officials announced Monday morning.

The two infected individuals traveled to an area in Europe earlier this month that is “currently experiencing monkeypox cases” and became symptomatic afterward, county health officials advised.

“Both individuals are in isolation and do not present a risk to the public,” officials said in a news release. “They are experiencing mild illness and are expected to recover fully.”

Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of Salt Lake County Health Department, said Monday that the presumably infected pair went to a primary care doctor on Friday and were instructed to isolate.

Within 24 hours, Dunn said, health officials knew the pair had some sort of orthopoxvirus — the family of virus that contains monkeypox and smallpox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is testing the samples to confirm a monkeypox diagnosis, Dunn said.

Further information about the two presumably infected individuals was not released early Monday; county health department officials cited medical privacy laws.

Exposure concerns

Utah’s public health system “has not identified any exposure risk to the public due to these probable cases,” according to county officials.

Any exposure concern is instead limited to people specifically identified to have had “direct, close contact” with the presumably infected pair during their infectious period, officials said in a statement.

County and state health officials are contacting those apparent close contacts and expected to reach all of them by the end of day Monday. By Monday afternoon, health officials said none of the people contacted had any “high-risk” contact with the infected individuals, meaning they likely didn’t contract the virus and were not asked to quarantine.

Salt Lake County health officials also said there is no evidence to indicate that the two presumably infected people infected anyone outside of Salt Lake County. The Utah Department of Health referred requests for comment to the Salt Lake County Health Department.

During a news conference, Dunn urged Utahns not to panic.

“This is not easily spread from human-to-human. We are not talking about COVID here,” she said. “It is really that direct contact with individuals who have monkeypox, and that’s how it’s spreading right now.”

What experts know about monkeypox

Monkeypox is a rare illness typically found in Central and West Africa, but health officials had recently identified cases in Europe and North America.

Those cases — along with the two suspected cases identified in Salt Lake County on Monday — were found in people who hadn’t recently visited Africa, which Dunn said means that there is “new, sustained spread” between humans outside of the continent where the disease is considered “endemic,” or regularly found.

Last week, Salt Lake County health officials contacted area doctors about increasing monkeypox case counts, Dunn said, so area physicians knew what to look for when the Salt Lake County pair came in and were instructed to isolate.

In humans, monkeypox can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion and swollen lymph nodes. People infected with monkeypox often develop a rash, usually first on the face before spreading to other parts of the body, which then turn into fluid-filled bumps called “pox,” Salt Lake County health officials advised.

The “pox” lesions typically scab over before falling off. Infection can last between two and four weeks. People are not infectious until they show symptoms, Dunn said.

President Joe Biden on Sunday said the monkeypox cases recently identified in Europe and North America were something “to be concerned about,” The Associated Press reported this weekend.

There were about 100 confirmed cases in “non-endemic countries” across the world as of Saturday, according to the World Health Organization. As of Monday, such cases had been identified in England, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, France, Canada and Australia.

Dunn said Utahns should see a doctor if they have recently traveled to an area where monkeypox has been identified — or came into close contact with someone who is symptomatic — and have since developed symptoms.

How monkeypox typically spreads

Monkeypox is not known to spread easily among humans, Dunn said, and transmission doesn’t generally happen through casual contact.

Instead, human-to-human transmission generally occurs through direct contact with bodily fluids, including monkeypox lesions as well as semen and/or vaginal fluid.

That means the virus can spread through sexual transmission, but it also can spread if someone comes into contact with such bodily fluids or other infectious materials on someone’s clothing or bedding.

Individuals can also catch monkeypox through “prolonged, close face-to-face contact;” Dunn clarified Monday that “prolonged” contact is considered to be about three hours.

Dunn said that current international cases are spreading “particularly among the gay — or men who have sex with men (MSM) — community.” The county health department is working with community partners ahead of Utah Pride Week to educate attendees on risk and how to protect themselves, though spread is not limited to gender or sexuality, and the CDC has advised that some cases have been reported in roommates, or people who share a household.

It usually takes about seven to 14 days for someone to go from being infected with monkeypox to begin showing symptoms, but that time period can range from five to 21 days, officials advised.

There is currently no proven, safe treatment for monkeypox. But, limited available evidence indicates that smallpox treatments may be useful, officials said.

Dunn said the county has a stockpile of a smallpox vaccine and smallpox treatment that can be administered. Most people recover with no treatment.

If you plan to travel internationally soon

Utahns who plan to travel internationally should reference the CDC’s current recommendations on monkeypox and other communicable diseases for their intended destinations, Salt Lake County health officials advised.

Those recommendations include frequent, thorough hand-washing; avoiding contact with animals; and avoiding close contact with people who are apparently experiencing symptoms of monkeypox or other illness.

People with international travel planned should consider checking to make sure that they are up to date on recommended immunizations and educated about potential health risks at their intended destinations, officials advised.

You can plan an appointment with the Salt Lake County Health Department Travel Clinic by calling 385-468-4111. Similar travel clinics are available in Davis and Utah counties.

For more information about monkeypox, visit CDC.gov/monkeypox.