By Marisa Guerra Echeverria and Taylor Daggs, Head Section Editor and Staff Writer
// Individuals wait, forming a snaking line in front of the local clinic in the hot summer sun. A familiar sense of anxiety prickles their skin as they wait to access that last test, that last bit of medication, that last vaccine that is so in demand. While many people may associate that feeling with the COVID-19 pandemic, these individuals currently experience it with a new viral threat: monkeypox.
As monkeypox continues to spread throughout California and the San Francisco Bay Area, Contra Costa County residents share their concerns of infection through skin-to-skin contact.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), scientists first discovered monkeypox, a variant of the variola virus, in 1958 among research animals and reported its first human case in 1970. Although the disease is common in central and west Africa, it has since spread to other countries via international travel.
“Before the current global outbreak, monkeypox typically was transmitted from animals to humans, mostly in Africa, where the virus is endemic. In the current outbreak, however, the virus is spreading from person to person primarily through skin-to-skin contact with an infected rash,” spokesman for the Contra Costa County Health Services (CCCHS) Will Harper said.
Skin-to-skin contact is a crucial part of monkeypox infections, as painful yet non-fatal rashes may spread upon any intimate contact. People may spread the disease from the moment symptoms arise to when the skin completely heals over, taking from around two to four weeks.
“In most of the recent cases of monkeypox in the U.S., people who contract the virus develop a rash that can look like pimples or blisters on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like hands, feet, chest, and genitals,” Kaiser Permanente said in a statement to Blueprint.
The current outbreak started in May 2022, with the first case identified in California on May 28. It has since grown throughout the summer. As of Aug. 11, there are currently 1,945 cases statewide, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). San Francisco, which has some of the most infections of all U.S. cities, declared a health state of emergency in late July.
Nationwide, health experts observe that these cases primarily arise in groups of men that have sex with men, posing a risk to the LGBTQ+ community. In light of this exposure, experts maintain the importance of steering clear of discrimination as they do not know why the virus arises in these communities.
“It’s important that we not stigmatize any group of people – monkeypox is not a ‘gay disease.’ There is nothing intrinsically about being an [LGBTQ+] man that makes someone more vulnerable to infection,” Harper said.
Although Contra Costa County currently observes 40 cases as of Aug.11, immunization has been a top priority for CCHS, who has vaccinated more than 850 people so far through special clinics. Although health professionals currently reserve a limited current vaccine supply for individuals most at risk of exposure, the County expects to have an increased supply soon.
“We hope to launch a new online vaccine-appointment scheduling tool in the next couple of weeks where people can book an appointment themselves without having to deal with the waiting list. And we also expect private health systems like Kaiser to offer vaccines soon,” Harper said.
While some public health centers remain vigilant about monkeypox, some Acalanes students observe different attitudes toward the virus online.
“Well, I generally don’t watch cable news, but the response I’ve seen [about monkeypox] has been I think generally kind of relaxed,” senior Ben Tunick said. “From my understanding, there’s also been a dismissal of people coming in and suspecting that they have monkeypox too. So the way that it is being addressed is insufficient. It’s very easy to get freaked out hearing about a new disease.”
Other Acalanes students feel that their awareness of the monkeypox virus extends beyond the news screens as it deeply impacts areas they frequent in their everyday lives.
“I was like, ‘Oh God, another pandemic’. And then it scared me because I’d always go with my friends to San Francisco and now I’m always afraid to go shopping [there] because I thought [monkeypox] was just going to spread,” senior Hanna Mirzai said.
In contrast to these concerns, the Acalanes Union High School District’s (AUHSD) nurses believe the virus will not interfere much with the local community in the upcoming school year.
“When we talked about it at a Zoom meeting with the County health department, they said monkeypox is not an issue in our county and definitely not an issue in the high school community at this time, and if it becomes an issue, we will address it,” Acalanes nurse Dvora Citron said.
Members of the medical community are also confident that the monkeypox situation can be controlled.
“We feel that it could be contained. We feel that people should be vaccinated against it. We think people should avoid risking behavior that would cause transmission, similar to continuance as mask mandates as far as COVID is concerned. Monkeypox is contact; avoid contact,” Medical Director of Hope HealthCare Dr. Brent Williams said.
Currently, the monkeypox outbreak has not posed a monumental risk to high schoolers in the area due to the disease’s newness and dependence on skin-to-skin contact.
“As of Friday, all the monkeypox cases in Contra Costa were adults ages 18 and up. And statewide, there have been only four monkeypox cases among minors under 18 out of nearly 1,950 cases in CA as of Aug. 11,” Harper said.
While the California Department of Public Health will release monkeypox guidance for schools in the upcoming weeks, doctors recommend following several sanitary measures to keep students safe during the back-to-school season.
“Good handwashing and avoid close contact, especially sexual contact skin-to-skin. You could wipe off surfaces that you feel that others could come in contact with. In some cases in schools, you may be considering desk surfaces and common things that you may encounter in a classroom such as pencil sharpeners,” Williams said.
Although the virus does not pose an immediate threat to Acalanes, community members suggest staying vigilant about public health throughout the outbreak.
“We definitely have to be proactive and be aware and think about how this disease gets transmitted and if it gets transmitted and we start seeing more incidents of it, [seeing] what we need to do,” Citron said.