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St. Louis area drives increase in monkeypox cases across Missouri

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Monkeypox Africa

This image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles found within an infected cell, cultured in the laboratory that was captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md.

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis area continues to see a rise in monkeypox cases even as the total cases across the U.S. continue to go down.

A total of 52 confirmed and probable cases have been reported as of Thursday by the St. Louis Department of Health, up from 36 two weeks ago. The city saw the area’s first case on July 12.

A total of 28 St. Louis County residents have been diagnosed with monkeypox since the first week of August. After a lull in mid-September, the last 10 cases have come in just the past two weeks.

“While our total number of cases is still relatively low, we have seen an increase in the pace of new cases,” Kate Donaldson, acting co-director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said Thursday in an email.

Jefferson County health officials last week also reported the first case of monkeypox in a Jefferson County resident.

“Across the state we have seen several cases of monkeypox, so we were prepared for the potential that Jefferson County would see a case as well,” stated Jeana Vidacak, the county’s public health preparedness supervisor. “Our communicable disease team has been preparing for case investigations and community education.”

A total of 124 monkeypox cases have been reported in Missouri, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

The past two weeks have seen the most number of new cases yet — averaging nearly three a day, according to the first newsletter created Wednesday by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to share data about the outbreak with providers.

Meanwhile across the country, nearly 26,300 cases have been reported since the worldwide outbreak hit the U.S. in May. The number of new cases peaked nationwide around the end of August and have been dropping since.

Cases in Missouri have been reported in 15 jurisdictions, the DHSS newsletter shows. Most (67%) are in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The Kansas City area has seen 16%.

The median age of Missouri monkeypox cases is 32, with 18 being the youngest and 61 the oldest. Nearly all (97%) are males.

Health officials with St. Louis city and county have been working to educate and vaccinate as many residents as they can against monkeypox, which they say has helped prevent the high number of cases metro areas have seen in other states.

The St. Louis County health department — the state-designated vaccine distribution hub for St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties and the city of St. Louis — reports more than 2,000 individuals have been vaccinated across the region since the outbreak began.

The efforts included outreach at the Tower Grove Pride two weeks ago in which more than 500 people received the vaccine.

“We remain committed to reaching those individuals who are most vulnerable and at risk for contracting the disease, and we are pleased with our partnerships with area clinics, community partners and public health departments,” Donaldson said.

After hosting a two-day monkepox vaccination event three weeks ago where more than 400 people were vaccinated, the city health department is taking appointments for another two-day event Oct. 14 and 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1520 Market Street. Call 314-657-1499 for information.

Across Missouri, more than 4,000 monkeypox vaccine doses have been administered — of which about 3,300 are first doses. Full vaccination requires two doses given four weeks apart.

The amount of vaccine remains limited across the country, so CDC guidelines require doses to be reserved for close contacts of positive cases and those at highest risk.

In this outbreak, monkeypox has spread mainly through prolonged skin-to-skin contact. While anyone can get monkeypox, the illness is currently mostly affecting men who have sex with men.

To help identify and ensure only those who meet the CDC guidelines get the vaccine, the Missouri health department created an online survey. The results are provided to local health department officials, who schedule the individuals for a vaccine appointment.

To ease the process at outreach events, providers with approval from DHSS are also able to ask patients if they are eligible for the vaccine, said DHSS spokeswoman Lisa Cox.

Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, chills, head or muscle aches, followed by a rash that looks like pimples, sores or blisters. The sores can be painful or itchy and may first appear in the genital area.

Monkeypox testing is available at no cost at public health and community clinics throughout the region.

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