PROVINCETOWN — As of June 21, the Centers for Disease Control report seven confirmed cases of monkeypox in Massachusetts, 22 in New York, 37 in California, and 210 in Canada. There are nearly 500 in Spain and Germany, and nearly 800 in the U.K. The CDC website says that “many — though not all — of the reported cases have been among gay and bisexual men.”
On Cape Cod, state Sen. Julian Cyr says the Provincetown Health Dept., Outer Cape Health Services, AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, and the state Dept. of Public Health are preparing for the likely eventual appearance of monkeypox here.
“At this point, we should expect this,” said Cyr on Tuesday. “Based on what we know, cases are likely to surface anywhere there’s a large gay community, and that includes Boston, Providence, New York, Washington, Montreal, and yes, Provincetown.”
Cyr is himself gay and was formerly a director of policy in the state’s public health dept. He said that, right now, awareness and information are important.
“Indications are that transmission is occurring when people are symptomatic, so we need to be aware of what the symptoms are, and people need to decide to stay home and not try to take an Advil and shake off that fever or chill they’re feeling and go out,” Cyr said.
According to Provincetown’s health dept., the characteristic symptom of monkeypox is a rash, often appearing first on the face or genital area and then spreading to other parts of the body including hands and feet. The rash is typically preceded by fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and other nonspecific symptoms like malaise, headache, and muscle aches. These symptoms emerge 6 to 21 days after exposure, and it is this constellation of symptoms that public health leaders here want people to know about.
“This is transmitted by very close contact,” said Cyr. While transmission via surfaces or airways is technically possible, “We are talking about being face to face for so long that you’re almost kissing,” Cyr said.
The Provincetown Health Dept.’s website describes this as “respiratory secretions through face-to-face interactions (the type that mainly happen when living with someone or caring for someone who has monkeypox).” The health dept. also says that “monkeypox does not spread through casual conversations, walking by someone with monkeypox in a grocery store, or touching items like doorknobs.”
In other words, monkeypox does not spread like Covid, Cyr said.
Although no one has died in the outbreak countries (there has been one confirmed death in Nigeria, one of several countries where monkeypox is endemic), the disease is still serious. Skin sores can be painful, the infection can take four weeks to clear, and the potential exists for scars.
“We want people to know the symptoms and avoid close contact if they’re feeling them,” Cyr said. Or as it says on Provincetown’s website, “If you are feeling sick, stay in!”