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Health authorities urge precautions against monkeypox

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Oregon Capital Bureau

As of Thursday morning, there were 95 confirmed cases of monkeypox — officially known as hMPXV — in Oregon, health officials said Thursday in a press conference.

Ninety-two are men and three are women.

There are approximately 9,500 cases nationwide, including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority, said everyone can contract monkeypox, although the vast majority of cases are in gay or bisexual men at this point.

Symptoms include lesions and rashes that spread and may be painful.

Sidelinger said monkeypox is not nearly as contagious as COVID-19, which can be spread by air. Monkeypox requires close personal contact, such as prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including through sex, cuddling, kissing or massage. Contact with towels, clothing, or other objects used by someone with the virus can also spread the virus.

Fortunately, Sidelinger said, like COVID-19, there is a safe vaccination for monkekpox, although it is currently in limited supply. New shipments are expected to arrive in coming weeks.

Like with COVID-19, anyone who believes they have been exposed to monkeypox should contact their health care providers and isolate for 14 days.

Sidelinger was joined by Dr. Patrick Luedtke, Lane County’s senior public health officer, and Katie Cox, executive director of The Equi Institute, whose mission is to enrich the health of the trans, queer, intersex and gender diverse communities through trauma-informed care, culturally-affirming services and social justice advocacy.

On Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown urged all Oregonians to take precautions to prevent the spread of the monkeypox virus.

“I am urging all Oregonians to take steps to protect yourself and others from hMPXV. If you’re planning to attend a festival, concert, party, or other event, consider the amount of close, personal, and skin-to-skin contact that may occur. If you are feeling sick and have symptoms like a new rash, avoid close skin-to-skin contact, and call your health care provider or 2-1-1 if you think you may have been exposed,” Brown said in a statement.

“We have an ugly history in this country of ignoring diseases that primarily impact the LGBTQ+ community. I remember the early days of the HIV epidemic, when a generation of gay men was dying and the government did not seem to care. It took years before there was general recognition from the public that HIV, like all viruses, spreads indiscriminately,” Brown said.

Oregon insurers are now required to cover the cost of monkeypox vaccination administration for their health plan members in Oregon, based on a declaration of a disease outbreak from Oregon Health Authority.

According to federal and state health officials, monkeypox vaccines are vital prevention measures that also can slow the spread of monkeypox and eventually bring this outbreak to an end. The new insurance coverage requirement removes financial barriers to vaccination, such as requiring people to pay costs of administering the vaccines.

“We know more vaccines are coming from the federal government. We’re doing everything we can to keep people safe and encourage people to take common sense precautions — like getting vaccinated when they’re eligible and supplies are available — so we can all prevent monkeypox from spreading,” Sidelinger said.

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