Monkeypox in Utah: CDC confirms 2 cases in Salt Lake County

The two “probable” cases were initially announced Monday.

(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. The cases have since been confirmed by the CDC.

Two adults in the same Salt Lake County household were confirmed Wednesday to have recently contracted monkeypox.

Salt Lake County Health Department officials had initially announced the two “probable” cases early Monday, based on preliminary testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since confirmed the suspected diagnoses.

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.

Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of Salt Lake County Health Department, said Monday that the then-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. So far, they have experienced a mild illness and are expected to fully recover.

“The infected individuals remain in isolation and do not present a risk to the public,” officials said in a Wednesday news release.

Further information about the two people diagnosed with monkeypox was not released; county health department officials cited medical privacy laws.

What experts know about monkeypox

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

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.

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.

The cases that have cropped up in Europe and North America, including the two in Salt Lake County, were found in people who hadn’t recently visited Africa. That means that there is “new, sustained spread” between humans outside of the continent where the disease is considered “endemic,” or regularly found, Dunn said.

But she 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.”

Exposure concerns

The Salt Lake County pair that contracted monkeypox do not pose a broader risk to the public, officials said.

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

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 that “prolonged” contact is considered to be about three hours.

The infected pair’s close contacts were alerted by county health officials on Monday, and none had any “high-risk” contact with the diagnosed individuals, meaning they likely didn’t contract the virus and were not asked to quarantine.

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.

Precautions to take while traveling

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.

As of this week, monkeypox cases had been identified in “non-endemic” areas including England, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, France, Canada and Australia.

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.