LARAMIE — While there are no confirmed cases of monkeypox in Wyoming, the virus is spreading elsewhere across the United States. At the same time, the BA.5 subvariant of COVID-19 is now the most dominant in the state. In the third year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, monkeypox now also is raising concern for health officials across the county.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced a public health emergency declaration for the monkeypox outbreak during a press conference Thursday.

Nationwide, 6,617 people have tested positive for monkeypox. This number has increased by more than 1,000 cases in the past week.

There are no cases of the virus recorded in Wyoming, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

“The global outbreak of monkeypox continues to increase and spread,” said Albany County Health Officer Jean Allais, adding that unlike the viral nature of COVID, monkeypox is more difficult to spread through casual contacts.

“Monkeypox does not spread easily between people without close contact,” she said. “Anyone who has had contact with someone who has a probable or confirmed case of monkeypox is at high risk for infection. Many cases in this outbreak have been in men who have sex with men.”

Monkeypox infection can cause flu-like symptoms and a rash. The symptoms generally resolve on their own without treatment over the two to four weeks it takes for the illness to run its course, Allais said.

The best way to protect against monkeypox is to avoid close skin-to-skin contact with anyone who is feeling ill or has unexplained rashes on their body, Allais said.

People also should avoid touching objects a person with monkeypox has used.

“If you or your partner have recently been sick, currently feel sick or have a new or unexplained rash, do not have sex and see a health care provider,” Allais said.

There are two vaccines available for monkeypox, and vaccination is recommended for anyone who has been exposed to monkeypox or has had more multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area where monkeypox is present.

Supply of the vaccine Jynneos is limited in the United States, but is available through public health offices. The vaccine is given in two doses 28 days apart and typically has minor side effects, Allais said.

It best prevents onset of disease when administered four days after exposure, but still may reduce symptoms up to 14 days after exposure.

The Wyoming Department of Health will work to provide access to the vaccine, which may become more broadly available in the future, Allais said.

A more broadly available vaccine in the United States is ACAM2000, which was originally intended for use against smallpox.

It is administered in a single dose using a bifurcated needle. It takes four weeks for optimum development. It should not be used by anyone with a weakened immune system, cardiac condition, eczema or similar skin conditions, Allais said.

“As a live, replicating virus vaccine, ACAM2000 can cause serious adverse events in the vaccinated individual and can be transmitted to close contacts,” Allais said.

Health officials expect cases to continue to rise in the coming days and weeks, though part of this increase could be attributed to more widespread testing across the country. About 80,000 tests per week are being administered for the virus, and the federal government is working on ramping up its production and distribution of vaccines and treatments, Becerra said.

The emergency declaration should help health officials better increase vaccine production and gather data on the outbreak.

The White House also is working to engage rural communities in monkeypox outreach and education by working with trusted community health groups and LGBTQ organizations, said White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator Demetre Daskalakis.

“I think from the LGBTQ community this is a clear statement of the lives of people in that community,” Daskalakis said. “I think it represents an important commitment by the administration to the community.”

In terms of COVID-19, the BA.5 subvariant is now the most dominant variant in the Cowboy State, Allais said.

The variant is known to spread easily but cause less severe illness.

The Wyoming Department of Health recommends that people stay up to date with their vaccinations and be sure to isolate and wear a mask if they test positive for the virus.

Statewide, there have been 493 confirmed active cases and 1,137 probable and confirmed cases of COVID in the past seven days, according to data from the state last updated Tuesday.

This story was published on August 5, 2022.

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