Maine reports its first case of monkeypox

Maine health officials reported the state’s first confirmed case of monkeypox Friday as the outbreak of the infectious disease continues to spread across the country.

The state Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified the infected person as a male resident of York County and said no further information about the individual would be released. The Maine CDC said it is working to identify others who may have been exposed and make vaccination available to any close contacts.

The virus has been spreading around the world and about 2,600 cases have been identified in the United States. Maine was one of the last states to report a confirmed case of monkeypox. Only Vermont, Montana, Wyoming and Mississippi had not reported a case as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease is spread through close physical contact, including sexual contact, with an infected person.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said in an interview with the Press Herald on Friday that the “overwhelming majority of cases have been men who have sex with other men.”

“Based on what we know today, the risk to the general public is low,” Shah said.

He said the Maine CDC has been preparing for monkeypox cases for about six to eight weeks, partnering with health clinics that specialize in sexually-transmitted infections and raising awareness among primary care doctors about what signs to look out for, such as a distinctive rash accompanied by flu-like symptoms.

Shah said while sexual contact is a common way to transmit monkeypox, it is not considered a sexually-transmitted disease. It is transmitted through close, intense, skin-on-skin contact, often through sexual contact but also through other contact, such as kissing.

“The goal of the response is to reduce the likelihood that monkeypox would move into other populations, such as pregnant women and children,” Shah said.

Maine has received a monkeypox vaccine called Jynneos from the federal government and has enough doses to vaccinate 311 people. Maine CDC is making the vaccine available to close contacts of identified cases as well as those at risk of transmitting monkeypox or becoming severely ill.

Shah said Maine is not likely to receive more shipments of the vaccine until mid-August, because of supply constraints, and it’s uncertain how many more doses the state will get. A good start would be to get about 2,000 doses, which would cover the U.S. CDC’s estimate for Maine people who are at high risk of monkeypox, such as those who have HIV or are at high risk of contracting HIV. But Shah said 2,000 is certainly an undercount of the population at risk for monkeypox.

People who believe they may have been exposed or who have a new or unexplained rash or lesions should contact a health care provider, according to a Maine CDC news release. Those who have a rash and have a confirmed or suspected case of monkeypox should avoid sharing common items with others, such as towels, bedding and utensils, in addition to avoiding close personal contact, including hugging, kissing and sexual contact.

Shah said for men most at risk – those having sex with other men – the public health advice is to be smart about sex partners and avoid sexual contact with those who may have monkeypox.

Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses that causes smallpox. Monkeypox can be painful and disfiguring, and in rare cases leads to severe illness and hospitalization. It is rarely fatal.

The current global outbreak of monkeypox began in May. According to the U.S. CDC monkeypox outbreak tracker, as of July 21, 2022, there have been 2,593 identified cases of monkeypox across the United States and a total of 15,848 cases across 72 countries.

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