The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department confirmed the county’s first case of monkeypox in a local adult on Wednesday, August 3. The resident was exposed to the virus outside of the county and is isolating at home.

Public Health has completed contact tracing to identify anyone who may have had close contact with the person and will monitor those who have been exposed. Risk to the public remains low, according to Public Health.

“Public Health nurses have been working closely with the resident who is currently recovering at home in isolation,” Paige Batson, Community Health Deputy Director, said. “It remains important for all community members to stay apprised of the evolving situation and take steps to protect themselves, especially in prolonged, close-contact encounters.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday declared a state of emergency to assist in efforts to combat the spread of monkeypox, as areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco struggle to keep up with the demand for vaccinations.

Currently, Santa Barbara County has a total of 40 monkeypox vaccinations. Neighboring counties Ventura and Kern County have two and five cases, respectively. Jackie Ruiz, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, said it is unclear when the county will receive additional vaccinations from the state.

“Right now, all we know is they’re coming later in the summer,” Ruiz said. 

At this time, only those who have been exposed to an infectious person, or those working in labs that expose themselves to monkeypox, are eligible to receive a vaccine. Allocations of vaccinations for counties, Ruiz said, is determined by the number of monkeypox cases and the number of early syphilis cases in men. Santa Barbara County has a lower rate of early syphilis cases in men compared to the rest of the state, Ruiz said.

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Monkeypox spreads in different ways. The virus can spread from person to person through:

  • Direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex
  • Touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids
  • Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta
Monkeypox lesions on a patient in Great Britain | Credit: U.K. Health Security Agency

Symptoms of monkeypox usually begin one to two weeks after infection. They can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Respiratory symptoms (e.g., sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)
  • A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.
    • The rash goes through different stages before healing completely. 

In May 2022, Dr. David Heymann, a leader at the World Health Organization, said one leading theory to explain the outbreak of monkeypox was sexual transmission during two raves held in Europe, attended mostly by gay and queer people. Some countries, such as Germany, linked cases to party events where sexual activity occurred. Gay and bisexual men were the most prominent group first affected by this outbreak, though anyone can become infected.

Kristin Flickinger, executive director of the Pacific Pride Foundation, an organization that offers services and resources to the LGBT+ community, said her priority right now is educating the community about this disease and how to prevent infection. Most of the questions and concerns from the community, she said, involve how and where to get a vaccination.

For the most up-to-date information about monkeypox prevention, vaccination, and seeking care in Santa Barbara County, visit the County Public Health Monkeypox webpage. California’s health department provides updates on monkeypox cases here.

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