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Mecklenburg County releases details on monkeypox outbreak, now 12 confirmed cases

A digitally-colorized electron microscopic image shows monkeypox virus particles, obtained from a human skin sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A digitally-colorized electron microscopic image shows monkeypox virus particles, obtained from a human skin sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak.

Mecklenburg County’s monkeypox outbreak so far seems to be disproportionately affecting Black men who have sex with men, according to details about the county’s confirmed cases released Wednesday.

All of the county’s 12 confirmed cases have been men, most between the ages of 25 and 44, and most who reported sexual contact with other men, county health director Raynard Washington said at a news conference Wednesday. According to Washington, two-thirds of the men with confirmed monkeypox cases have been African American.

“For everyone, but particularly men who have sex with men, we all should be taking precautions to ensure that we’re not exposed or not exposing others,” Washington said.

He added: "While this current outbreak is disproportionately impacting the MSM (men who have sex with men) community, this is not a sexually transmitted disease ... Sexual contact is not required for transmission."

County health workers have traced all of Mecklenburg’s confirmed cases to other confirmed monkeypox cases, mostly out of state, Washington said. None of the cases have been severe, according to Washington, and each has been isolated at home. County workers have notified their close contacts and vaccinated those contacts “as appropriate,” he said.

Monkeypox is a rare but potentially serious viral illness that usually involves flu-like symptoms, swelling of the lymph nodes and a rash. It’s typically spread by skin-to-skin contact. Most infections last two to four weeks.

Washington encouraged people to limit close physical contact, especially intimate and sexual contact, with strangers, as well as with those who have been diagnosed with monkeypox or have monkeypox-like symptoms. He urged anyone who has an unexplained rash, swollen lymph nodes or flu-like symptoms to contact a healthcare provider.

Mecklenburg County’s monkeypox cases accounted for more than half of the 21 total confirmed cases in North Carolina as of Wednesday. The county’s health department on July 13 began offering vaccines to people at high risk of contracting the virus but Washington emphasized Wednesday that the vaccine supply was still “critically low.”

The vaccine, called JYNNEOS, can prevent illness or lead to less severe symptoms if given within 14 days of when someone is exposed to monkeypox. It’s administered as a series of two doses spaced 28 days apart.

“We’ve got 667 doses but this is a two-dose series for the vaccine. And so that’s actually only enough to serve just over 330 residents,” Washington said.

The county as of Wednesday had a monkeypox vaccine waitlist of more than 500 people, according to Washington. To be added to the waitlist, residents can go online.

People at high risk for contracting monkeypox, according to the county, are those who have been in close physical contact in the past 14 days with someone diagnosed with monkeypox or those who know their sexual partner was diagnosed with monkeypox.

The high-risk criteria also include men who have sex with men, or transgender people, who have had “multiple or anonymous sex partners in the 14 days in either a venue where monkeypox was present or in an area where the virus is spreading,” the county said in a news release July 12. Those areas, according to the county, include several locations in Europe and parts of California, Washington, D.C., Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Texas.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.