TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida health officials reported four new cases of monkeypox in Pinellas County and an additional case in Polk County. The findings come as the White House works to distribute hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses to those most at risk.
The latest data, released this week, brings the total cases of monkeypox in Pinellas to five, and a total of two cases in Polk. As of Thursday morning, no cases have been reported in other Bay Area counties.
"This is like the first time we've ever really seen monkeypox get out of out of Africa and be circulating in secondary infections in a European population, U.S. population, pretty much in history," said USF Health Dr. Thomas Unnasch. "It may have managed to mutate to become a little bit more infectious and more well-adapted to human beings. The nice thing about that is what we're seeing is basically no fatalities, no deaths as a result of monkeypox in the in the infections that we're seeing in Europe and Britain in the United States."
Broadly speaking, monkeypox is similar to smallpox as a mild, viral illness. However, it can cause serious and even deadly health complications for immunocompromised people, pregnant women, infants, and people with eczema and other serious skin conditions. Symptoms include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, rash, and headaches.
Unnasch said this virus is much less transmissible than COVID-19.
"Unlike COVID, which, you know, is developed to a point where now where one person in a room can infect everybody and 100 people in a room all at once. This thing requires really pretty darn close, intimate contact," he said.
So far, monkeypox has been disproportionately affecting gay men.
Brian Thomas, who has grown his social media platform by discussing his experience as an HIV-positive nurse in Baltimore, believes he contracted the virus at a pride event in Wilton Manors, Florida.
"We've been hearing stories about it for a few months now and, of course, we're like, 'Oh, it's not going to be that big of a deal. It's just being sensationalized and it's definitely not going to happen to me,'" Thomas told FOX 13 during a virtual interview. "I am proof that it can happen to you. And now I'm like, okay, this is definitely a serious, serious thing, and we can definitely get a handle on it."
Thomas, who has been recovering for 12 days, has been providing regular updates to his nearly 70,000 TikTok followers. He said he wants to remove the stigma that monkeypox is a disease that only impacts gay men.
"It's very scary. But I think [the public is] just very burnt out. We're like, okay, it's just another [virus]. But we need to take it seriously," he said.
It can take as long as 21 days after exposure for symptoms to develop. Health officials are recommending that if you think you've been exposed, not only should you get tested, but you should also get vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now expanding testing for the disease. Labcorp began testing for monkeypox on Wednesday.
Florida has seen 73 documented cases of the disease this year, with 40 of them concentrated in Broward County and 14 in Miami-Dade.
Last week, the Biden administration launched the first phase of its monkeypox vaccine rollout. The goal is to provide better access to vaccines for people who are at a greater risk of contracting the virus.
A further breakdown of the cases by county is below:
- Collier County: 1
- Lake County: 1
- Santa Rosa County: 1
- Seminole County: 1
- Polk County: 2
- Palm Beach County: 3
- Orange County: 5
- Miami-Dade County: 14
- Broward County: 40
The CDC says more than 7,200 cases have been confirmed worldwide with more than 600 cases found in the U.S.