Monkeypox now a national health emergency — What that means for Johnson County

Johnson County health officials continue to stress that only one confirmed case of monkeypox has been found here. Image courtesy of Cynthia Goldsmith /CDC.

Following the Biden administration’s declaration earlier this month that the monkeypox virus is a national public health emergency, Johnson County health officials have been working to address the virus on a more local level — though risk levels currently remain low, they say.

How many local cases are there? The most recent county data still only shows that just one case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Johnson County.

  • That case, announced in early July, was the first reported monkeypox case in Kansas.
  • The Kansas Department of Health and Environment earlier this week announced the identification of the state’s second monkeypox case in Shawnee County.

Local health department response: During a Thursday report presented to the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners, Public Health Director Sanmi Areola said the county and state health departments are working with local providers to watch out for potential positive cases of monkeypox.

  • The state health department is in charge of coordinating testing and contact tracing, but local providers can also order monkeypox tests through lab companies like Labcorp, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare, he said.
  • Those who suspect they might have monkeypox should call their primary health care provider before visiting in person so others are not exposed.
  • “We continue to work with KDHE as quickly as we can to get people tested,” Areola said. “We are in constant touch and communication with local providers here to be on the lookout for symptoms and working with KDHE when people need to be tested.”

Differences from COVID-19: Despite its public health emergency status, county health officials say the monkeypox virus does not present the same threats as COVID-19 did in its early stages more than two years ago.

  • Monkeypox is less threatening than COVID-19 in part because there are already vaccine and antiviral treatments to treat smallpox, which could also be used to treat and prevent monkeypox.
  • The virus also spreads less easily than COVID-19, primarily through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, particularly during sexual activity, or with exposure to an infected person’s bodily fluids or contaminated materials.

Getting vaccinated for monkeypox: As of now, the vaccine against monkeypox is only available to Kansans who have been identified as close contacts of confirmed cases.

  • Areola said the state has started to receive and administer the JYENNOS vaccine to people who are eligible, but supply is still limited.

Bigger picture: As of Monday, 8,934 confirmed monkeypox cases had been reported across the United States, the majority of which are occurring in men who have sex with men.

  • Still, county health officials stress that anyone can contract monkeypox, “regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
  • The continuing spread of monkeypox also comes as K-12 schools, colleges and universities start return for a new school year, which could contribute to more cases if spread continues in classrooms or on college campuses.
  • Populations more at risk if they contract monkeypox include people with histories of eczema or with weakened immune systems, children younger than 8, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • “We are applying lessons learned from the battles we’ve fought – from COVID response to wildfires to measles, and will tackle this outbreak with the urgency this moment demands,” said White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator Robert Fenton. 

Looking for more? You can read JCDHE’s guidelines to monkeypox here.