DENVER – State health officials expect the number of monkeypox cases to continue going up across the state as vaccine demand outpaces supply.
As of Friday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) reported 80 cases of the virus, with the majority of those being reported in Denver.
While the vast number of cases are among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM), state epidemiologist Dr. Alexis Burakoff told Denver7 the CDPHE has started to see cases outside this high-risk group.
Neither Burakoff nor the CDPHE would provide more details about those cases due to privacy concerns but urged Coloradans – regardless of sexual orientation – to know what signs to look for if someone suspects they have come into contact with the monkeypox virus.
“It’s not unexpected at this point that we would continue to see those numbers go up at this stage,” Burakoff said, “but we’re certainly taking it seriously and working extremely hard to push out as much vaccine as possible and do everything we can to keep those numbers low.”
The state effort to vaccinate as many at-risk Coloradans as possible has been hampered by an “extremely limited” supply of the Jynneos vaccine coming from the federal government.
Last month, the CDPHE said it was delaying second doses of the vaccine because not enough supply is available to vaccinate everyone who falls in that high-risk category. The vaccine, given as a two-dose series 28 days apart, is thought to be 85% effective against monkeypox, though experts warn data on its efficacy is limited, and even the CDC admits it does not know how effective it will be in the current outbreak.
As of late last week, the state had administered more than 1,700 doses through CDPHE clinics (the state has received and distributed over 6,000 total) and state health officials will administer at least 480 more through Aug. 13. Burakoff said the CDPHE recently learned Colorado would be eligible to receive up to 12,660 more doses of the vaccine.
Those who qualify for the vaccine – gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) who’ve had multiple or anonymous sex partners within the past 14 days, or anyone who believes they have been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox in the last 14 days – will be added to a waitlist and contacted by the CDPHE when more clinics open up as more vaccines become available from the federal government, officials said.
People who have already received their first dose of the vaccine and those who are immunocompromised should have already been contacted by the CDPHE to know when they can get their second dose.
Community transmission happening, county health departments work to vaccinate as many people as possible
Earlier this week, Westword reported the Diamond Cabaret was being investigated as a possible source of monkeypox exposure between July 12 and July 16 after a staff member tested positive for the virus. Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) officials confirmed that report and said they were working with the venue to test and vaccinate potential close contacts.
People in Denver who suspect they may have monkeypox and do not have a health care provider or insurance are encouraged to call the Denver Sexual Health Clinic at (303) 602-3540 to ask about available appointments.
The Tri-County Health Department on Thursday announced they’ll be hosting a monkeypox vaccine clinic during Aurora Pride, 5800 South Powhaton Road, on Saturday, Aug. 6 from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Two vaccine clinics happened earlier in the day in Castle Rock and Westminster.
“We don’t want people to be concerned about going about their daily lives. This is not COVID, it’s not so contagious that you should be worried that walking by somebody in the grocery store is going to make you sick.” Bukaroff said, “But we do want people to be aware of the situation.”
What to know about monkeypox
Monkeypox, which is endemic in parts of western and central Africa, is caused by an infection from a virus in the same family as smallpox, causing a similar (but less severe) illness.
Symptoms can include fever, headaches, muscle aches, exhaustion, backaches, swollen lymph nodes and chills, followed by a rash or lesions that start one to three days after someone experiences a fever and which usually begin in the face and spread to other parts of the body, though many cases of the current outbreak have reported lesions occurring in the genital area, anus, or the mouth. The rash and/or lesions may not spread to as many parts of the body as previous outbreaks and may be few or even just a single one, according to the latest case data. Other symptoms that have recently been reported include bloody stools, rectal pain, rectal bleeding, as well as sore throat, nasal congestion and/or cough.
In humans, the virus can spread through direct contact with the infectious rash and scabs of an infected person, as well as through the exchange of bodily fluids when kissing or having sex, as it's happening in the current outbreak. Other modes of transmission include inhaling large respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact (brief interactions are unlikely to result in transmission, the CDC says), so it’s not a bad idea to continue wearing high-quality masks if you come into contact with someone who suspects they may have monkeypox. Other less common ways the virus can spread is through contaminated clothing or linens.
Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed, which can take anywhere from 3 to 21 days.
While anyone can get monkeypox through direct contact with the infectious rash or scabs of an infected person or through prolonged face-to-face contact, not everyone is at same level of heightened risk of infection at the moment.
Studies of the global outbreak from the New England Journal of Medicine, the BMJ, the U.K. Health Security Agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the U.S. CDC show that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are overwhelmingly contracting the disease, and that transmission is mainly happening through intimate sexual contact.
The CDC is currently investigating whether the disease can spread asymptomatically, just like SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Health officials are also investigating whether the virus could be present in semen, vaginal fluids, and fecal matter and be transmitted that way.
Complications from the disease can include pneumonia, vision loss due to eye infection, and sepsis, a life-threatening infection. The strain currently spreading across the world has a fatality rate of about 1%, health officials say. Children, pregnant women and the immune compromised are at risk of suffering from severe complications of the virus.
Denver7’s Pattrik Perez contributed to this report.