CLEVELAND — Monkeypox cases are popping up in Northeast Ohio, with 18 cases confirmed in Cleveland, and two cases in Lorain County, according to the Cleveland Department of Public Health and Lorain County Public Health.
According to health experts, the monkeypox virus spreads most commonly through close, skin-to-skin contact.
“It is not a sexually transmitted disease, it is however a disease that is transmitted by close contact, which would include sex, but would also include hugging and other things,” said Dr. Amy Edwards, pediatric infectious disease specialist with University Hospitals (UH).
While Dr. Edwards said that labs have found monkeypox on fabric weeks after exposure, it’s still unclear if people can actually catch the virus from surfaces.
“When you look at all of the cases historically and the cases that we currently have, it’s extremely improbable,” said Mark Adams, health commissioner with Lorain County Public Health, regarding catching the virus from a surface.
According to Dr. David Margolius, director of public health for the City of Cleveland, the monkeypox virus is a cousin of the smallpox virus, and the federal government already has a stockpile of smallpox vaccines.
Dr. Margolius said the federal government has sent out vaccines to the states with the highest numbers of monkeypox cases, with Ohio receiving about 5,000 vaccines last week, with 1,200 of those going to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.
According to the CDC, Ohio has 45 cases of monkeypox.
“The Cuyahoga County Board of Health is working with clinical partners in Cleveland to get vaccines to the right people,” Dr. Margolius said. “Most of the cases of monkeypox across the country have been in gay men, so we are focusing on partnerships with clinical partners that serve the LGBT community. So that’s MetroHealth, UH, Cleveland Clinic, but also looking at partnering with the LGBT Center and Central Outreach.”
Monkeypox is a virus, not an STD, and while right now many cases have been seen in men who have sex with men, all three experts said it is not exclusive to that group of people. They also said the virus is currently prevalent in the LGBT community not because of any lifestyle choices, but out of “bad luck.”
“This is not any disease that should create any stigma, this is something that still, anybody can get,” said Adams.
Dr. Margolius said that it will likely still take weeks before vaccines are given in Cleveland, as the county’s board of health reaches out to partners, and those partners set up their operating systems. Dr. Margolius also said that more vaccines are likely on the way.
Adams said that currently, Lorain County has not received vaccines. Adams also said that when the time comes, the vaccine will likely only be for those who have been identified by the health department as close contacts to those who have the virus.
All three experts said people should not panic about monkeypox turning into another COVID pandemic situation.
“I will say the virus is much less contagious than COVID, so it does take what looks like a lot of close contact to be able to spread to other folks,” Dr. Margolius said.
“We certainly need to be vigilant, but we do not need to be fearful. This is not COVID 2.0,” said Dr. Edwards.