Alaska on Friday reported its first known case of monkeypox, involving an Anchorage resident.
The person — whose symptoms began roughly a week ago, and whose positive test result came back Thursday — has not needed to be hospitalized and is isolating at home, according to Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist.
Alaska’s first case of the virus is part of a global outbreak that has spread to thousands of people in dozens of countries in just a few weeks, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency last week.
By Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported nearly 5,000 U.S. cases in 47 states.
Despite the rapid spread of the outbreak worldwide, McLaughlin encouraged Alaskans not to panic.
“For the vast majority of Alaskans, their risk is very, very low of acquiring monkeypox,” he said in a phone interview Friday.
The current strain also appears to have a very low mortality rate: No confirmed deaths from monkeypox have yet been reported in the U.S., and according to the CDC, more than 99% of patients can expect to survive.
The Anchorage resident who tested positive had not recently traveled but was a close contact of someone who had recently traveled outside of Alaska, the state and municipal health departments said in a joint statement.
Any close contacts of this person will be notified and offered a vaccine. Vaccines are not currently available or recommended for the general public, Alaska and Anchorage health officials said in the statement.
Monkeypox is a disease caused by an infection with a pox virus that belongs to the same family of viruses that cause smallpox as well as the recently identified Alaskapox, which was discovered in the Fairbanks region.
The illness typically begins with flu-like symptoms including a fever, headaches, muscle and backaches, chills and “just general exhaustion” within one to two weeks of exposure, according to McLaughlin.
Within one to three days, the patient will develop a rash that often begins on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, but not always.
The rash typically starts as a red, flat area that can turn into razor bump-like swells, and then pustules with a cloudy appearance. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks.
While monkeypox does not spread easily between people, transmission can occur when a person has skin-to-skin contact with body fluids or monkeypox sores; through contact with items that have been contaminated, like bedding and clothing; or through prolonged face-to-face contact.
While anyone can get or spread monkeypox, the vast majority of cases in the U.S. have occurred among men who have sex with men.
Within this community, the risk of transmission is highest among people who have had multiple sexual partners or are having anonymous sex frequently, McLaughlin said.
“Monkeypox does not transmit anywhere near as efficiently” as COVID-19, he said. “It really requires intimate contact for prolonged periods of time.”
Monkeypox vaccine and treatments have been in short supply around the globe, but McLaughlin said the state is working with federal partners who oversee the national stockpile to make sure that vaccines and treatments are received in the state.
Currently, the state has roughly 100 vaccine doses available, and McLaughlin said he was just notified by the CDC that Alaska has been allocated over 400 additional doses.
Due to limited supply, only people with a known close contact to a confirmed case are eligible for vaccine. McLaughlin said he hopes that changes soon as more vaccine becomes available.
“Ideally, we would like to have a larger vaccine supply for Alaska and the nation to really be able to vaccinate anybody who would be considered high risk for exposure,” McLaughlin said — including men who have sex with men, and those who are immunocompromised.
The state health department is also communicating with health care providers and the general public about routes of transmission, what signs and symptoms to look for, and how to test and treat infected people.
“The best thing folks can do if they’re experiencing monkeypox symptoms or come across a new, unexplained rash is to stay home and contact their health provider right away,” Dr. Brian Piltz, medical officer at the Anchorage Health Department, said in Friday’s written statement.
“This will allow us to deliver prompt treatment and rapid identification of close contacts who may be eligible for vaccination,” he said.