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With no monkeypox cases yet reported, Carroll County Health Department is focusing on preparation efforts

Though none of the 219 monkeypox cases reported as of this week in Maryland were in Carroll County, the county’s health department is getting ready, if and when the virus arrives here, a health official said Wednesday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monkeypox is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which is part of the same family of viruses as the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms, but milder, and monkeypox is rarely fatal, the CDC stated.

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As of Aug. 9, there were 9,492 monkeypox cases reported in the U.S. The state with the most cases is New York, with 2,104.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared last week that the ongoing spread of monkeypox virus is a public health emergency. The declaration was made to “further strengthen and accelerate” the federal government’s response to the outbreak and also carries implications for data sharing by local governments with the federal government.

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Maryland officials said last week that they continue to press federal sources for limited doses of the monkeypox vaccine and are keeping close tabs on rising cases in the state, but Gov. Larry Hogan has not followed other states in declaring a public health emergency. Nonetheless, Hogan said in a statement earlier this month that the state is working to contain the outbreak.

“Since before our first monkeypox case was identified, the state has been mounting an aggressive response to this outbreak in coordination with local and regional partners,” Hogan said.

Maggie Kunz, health planner for the Carroll County Health Department, said Carroll is preparing for monkeypox.

“We’re actively preparing internally. We’re learning more about it,” she said. “We’re definitely preparing to help educate the public.”

Kunz said the health department has a small amount of monkeypox vaccine available and is working with health care providers in the county to educate them about the disease and virus.

Anyone in Carroll County who believes they may have contracted monkeypox should go first to their healthcare provider, Kunz said.

“If somebody thinks they have been exposed to monkeypox, those are the people we would vaccinate,” she added.

The first case of monkeypox was identified in Maryland in mid-June, after an outbreak spread from Europe to the United States.

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Cases are unusual outside of African countries, where it’s endemic, though largely spread from animals and not human to human. Monkeypox is rarely fatal but causes painful swollen lymph nodes, fevers and lesions that can spread the disease to close contacts. Isolation is necessary. For now, most cases have been reported in men who have sex with men, but public health officials have warned that others are at risk if they come in contact with the lesions or contaminated surfaces, such as bedding or clothing, for example.

There currently are no specific treatments for the disease, though an antiviral medication called TPOXX is being made available under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “expanded access” authority as trials continue to show its safety and efficacy.

“The FDA has been closely tracking reports of monkeypox transmissions in the United States with our federal public health partners and coordinating preparedness efforts accordingly,” said Dr. Robert M. Califf, FDA commissioner, in a statement in the agency’s July 29 update.

“We understand that while we are still living with COVID-19, an emerging disease may leave people feeling concerned and uncertain, but it’s important to note that we already have medical products in place, specifically an FDA-approved vaccine for the prevention of monkeypox disease and an FDA-cleared diagnostic test,” he said. “The FDA is using the full breadth of its authorities to make additional diagnostics and treatments available. We will continue to collaborate with our partners across all sectors to expand accessibility to countermeasures and bolster the tools in our arsenal as appropriate.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this report.

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