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Monkeypox cases remain low in La Plata County

San Juan Basin Public Health finds success stopping spread through communication, background monitoring
People who are unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to become infected with monkeypox according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Richard Vogel/Associated Press file)

Efforts to combat monkeypox appear to be working as La Plata County has had only two reported cases and the virus has been on the decline statewide.

In August, 157 monkeypox cases were reported in Colorado. That number decreased to 87 in September and only two cases have been reported during the first four days of October.

San Juan Basin Public Health Executive Director Liane Jollon said the agency’s success in La Plata County is a result of background monitoring done prior to President Joe Biden’s health declaration of emergency on Aug. 4.

“When SJBPH began to see steep increases in cases across the U.S. and here in Colorado, we activated our emergency response to prepare our agency and local health care partners for increased disease surveillance, investigation and control,” Jollon said.

Jollon said SJBPH’s first response was to ensure access to testing across the community while advocating for supplies of the Jynneos vaccine. Because a majority of cases were appearing in the Denver metro area, vaccine availability was concentrated there.

“We felt it important to have some supply available locally and were able to secure a small number of doses relatively early in the response and have received more vaccine as supply has grown,” Jollon said.

She said SJBPH was the first rural Colorado public health agency to serve as a vaccine hub. SJBPH and other providers in the community, as well as Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment mobile vaccine clinics, now have a sufficient vaccine supply to meet demand.

Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate people who are unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to become infected with monkeypox. Data suggests people can be protected as early as two weeks after their first vaccine dose, and protection is expected to be even stronger after completion of the two-dose Jynneos vaccine series.

SJBPH can provide shots at its clinics in Durango and Pagosa Springs and the state of Colorado has announced that it will provide vaccines through mobile clinics until the end of 2022.

“This early data is optimistic and shows the importance of vaccination as a preventive tool in our monkeypox response,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, in a news release. “We encourage people who meet eligibility criteria to find an appointment to get protection before potential exposure.”

Jollon also credits CDPHE’s expansion of the Jynneos vaccine in early September. Those who currently qualify for the vaccination are:

  • Anyone (any sexual orientation or gender identity) who has had close physical contact with someone who has monkeypox in the last 14 days.
  • Anyone (any sexual orientation or gender identity) who:
  • Has multiple or anonymous sexual partners
  • Has close physical contact with other people in a venue where anonymous or group sex may occur
  • Was diagnosed with gonorrhea or syphilis in the past six months or is living with HIV
  • Already uses or is eligible for HIV PrEP (medication to prevent HIV, e.g. Truvada or Descovy or Apretude)
  • Engages in commercial and/or transactional sex (e.g. sex in exchange for money, shelter, food, and other goods or needs).
  • Anyone (any sexual orientation or gender identity) identified by public health as a known high-risk contact of someone who has monkeypox.

    Prior to the expansion, the vaccine was available to anyone who:

    • Has been exposed to monkeypox in the last 14 days.
    • Has had close physical contact with someone who has had monkeypox in the last 14 days.
    • Is gay, bisexual, or is a gay man who has had sex with men or transgender, nonbinary, or gender-diverse people aged 18 years and older who have had sexual partners they did not know in the last 14 days or close physical contact with other people in a venue where anonymous group sex may occur.

    While the spread of monkeypox has been trending downward in recent weeks, the risk remains high for high-risk groups, Jollon said.

    “Communications with high-risk individuals and the groups and organizations associated with those folks, as well as the community at large, was also a critical element of success,” Jollon said.

    Data conducted by CDPHE shows cisgender males make up about 94% of Colorado’s cases and 77% of cases have been among people who identify as gay or lesbian.

    The virus has been most prevalent among people ages 25 to 34, making up around 44% of the cases.

    Jollon is cautiously optimistic about the low numbers in La Plata County.

    She said the minimal prevalence and spread of monkeypox in the community is a positive indicator of how the virus will behave in the region.

    “Like COVID-19, the monkeypox public health emergency demonstrated once again the importance of having solid foundations in place to respond quickly to emerging infectious diseases,” Jollon said.

    Colorado continues its statewide monkeypox vaccination distribution with health care providers across the state.

    Monkeypox may begin with flu-like symptoms that can include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. A rash or bumps may appear on the skin a few days after flu-like symptoms begin.

    Skin lesions can look like syphilis, herpes, blisters or even acne. In recent cases, additional symptoms have not always occurred before the rash or bumps if they have occurred at all.

    For more information about monkeypox, visit: https://cdphe.colorado.gov/diseases-a-to-z/monkeypox


    An earlier version of this story erred in saying eligible recipients of the monkeypox vaccine must have had one or more sexual partner(s) within the last 14 days before receiving the vaccine. The expanded eligibility no longer requires that 14-day period.

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