Essex County addresses monkeypox concerns

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ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On Sept. 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the United States’ first monkeypox death, that of a man in Los Angeles County, Calif. Here in New Jersey, health officials are urging residents to learn the facts about monkeypox and to protect themselves accordingly.

The Essex County Health Department held a monkeypox information session on the evening of Aug. 23. According to county health officials, Essex County has the second highest monkeypox infection rate in the state; due to this, the county is making monkeypox vaccines available by appointment only to immunocompromised individuals. Appointments for vaccines can be made on the Essex County Health Department website at or by calling 973-877-8456.

Dr. David Cennimo, an expert on infection disease from the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, was the speaker for the information session.

“I’m struggling — I believe all the medical community is struggling to create a dialogue on this emerging disease. We’re struggling on how to mention prevention of this virus. You’ve heard a lot about how currently certain groups are disproportionately affected by the virus. We don’t want to stigmatize those groups, but we want to figure out how to best reach out and partner for prevention,” Cennimo said, explaining that 98 percent of infections have been found in bisexual or gay men; 41 percent of those men also had compromised immune systems due to HIV. Sexual transmission is believed to be the cause of transmission in 95 percent of cases.

“Original cases of monkeypox in the 1970s were far more fatal than the virus we currently have, and this information is currently evolving,” Cennimo said, stressing that, as with the COVID-19 pandemic, local health departments are well connected to receive current data and guidelines.

Cennimo explained that there have not been many monkeypox deaths due to the fact that it’s mostly infecting otherwise healthy populations; according to the CDC, as of Sept. 13, there have been 19 monkeypox deaths worldwide in 2022. Monkeypox appears as a full-body rash with swollen lymph nodes and a fever and blisters, similar to those one would experience with smallpox. Modern treatments are being praised for keeping case numbers in check.

“We got lucky and didn’t get a virus that made us that sick in comparison to other epidemics,” Cennimo said, explaining that the modern virus seems to come from West Africa and is far milder than textbook monkeypox. Symptoms are nonspecific and can mimic influenza or COVID-19. The lesions are deep and do not mimic chicken pox; the lesions will blister and are incredibly painful. Lesions should not be picked at or treated at home. Patients are to seek immediate medical support, as contact with the lesions is the most prevalent route of infection between individuals.

The No. 1 reason for hospital admission due to monkeypox is pain. Lesions can be hidden in the throat, which can feel like a strep throat and won’t be noticed as monkeypox unless the patient seeks medical attention. As lesions enter genital regions the pain can be severe, requiring medical intervention. Most of the current infections being seen in the tristate area are quite mild, and the patients recover without treatment within two to three weeks.

According to Cennimo, the median age for infection is 38 years old. According to the CDC, as of July 12, monkeypox has been found in 103 locations worldwide in 2022.

“We currently have minimal reserves of the monkeypox vaccine within the United States,” Cennimo said, adding that, if you have had known exposure to the virus, you should reach out to your medical provider immediately, as a vaccine within four days of exposure can significantly reduce the presence of the virus in a patient. The vaccine can aid the immune system so that the patient experiences mild symptoms that will not require urgent medical attention.

The monkeypox virus is typically no longer present in infected patients one month after exposure. The lesions can sometimes be mistaken by patients for the blisters that result from shingles. Cennimo urged residents that, if they have any type of lesion on their body, they should seek medical advice and treatment. Cennimo advised against seeking medical advice from the internet.