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Monkeypox now spreading locally, Mecklenburg County health officials say

An image magnified 500x shows a section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, that had been infected with monkeypox virus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
An image magnified 500x shows a section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, that had been infected with monkeypox virus.

Monkeypox is now spreading locally in Mecklenburg County as the case count continues to rise, county health officials said Monday. Thirty-three cases had been reported in the county as of Monday morning — up from 12 cases roughly two weeks ago.

Previously, Mecklenburg County health director Raynard Washington told reporters there was no evidence of community spread, as he said each monkeypox case could be traced to a case outside county lines. But as of Monday, that was no longer true.

“We have traced cases to individuals … to cases here locally, as opposed to tracing them to cases in other jurisdictions,” Washington said. “(So) we do have some evidence of local transmission. And again, the majority of our cases are transmitting via sexual contact.”

Monkeypox is a 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, including intimate contact like during sex. Most infections last two to four weeks.

Washington said the majority of Mecklenburg County’s monkeypox cases have been in men who reported having sex with men, though he did not provide specific numbers. He previously told reporters the outbreak appeared to be disportionately affecting Black men who have sex with men, with two-thirds of the county’s first 12 cases occurring in African American men.

The number of cases in Mecklenburg County will likely continue to rise, according to Washington.

“Other jurisdictions that are a little further ahead in the monkeypox outbreak have been seeing new cases double every three to four days. And so far, I think that’s what we’re seeing (in Mecklenburg),” he said.

Meanwhile, the county is expecting a shipment of 2,000 additional doses of a vaccine used to prevent monkeypox. The county’s health department on July 13 began offering vaccines to people at high risk of contracting the virus, but supply has been limited and the vaccine waitlist has now ballooned to around 1,800 people, according to Washington.

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.

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.

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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.