By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

Sacramento County public health officials have confirmed a local case of the viral monkeypox disease and are investigating a second case involving someone who had “close contact” with that resident. 

“This case appears to be related to recent travel to Europe,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said of the first case.

The second possible case was found during contact tracing efforts.

“Both patients are isolating in their homes and not in contact with any other people. Risk to the general public remains very low,” Dr. Kasirye said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during an effort to eliminate smallpox. Monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries. Monkeypox does not occur naturally in the United States, but domestic cases have been associated with international travel or importing animals from areas where the disease is more common.

“[County] Public Health is working with [the state’s department of public health] to conduct contact tracing, and risk to the general public is extremely low,” Dr. Kasirye said of the local case. “Transmission occurs mainly from large respiratory droplets or by direct contact with bodily fluids, skin lesions, or contaminated clothing or bedding.”

The local case, reported by an area health provider, comes a week after a U.S. resident tested positive for monkeypox May 18 upon returning from Canada. Monkeypox is characterized by skin lesions but begins with fever, headache and muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and exhaustion. The incubation period is usually 7-14 days, but can range from 5−21 days.

The CDC says it’s tracking multiple clusters of monkeypox that were reported earlier this month in several countries that don’t normally report monkeypox, including in Europe and North America. The CDC previously confirmed two cases in 2021, one in July and another in November. Both cases involved U.S. citizens who had returned from traveling in Nigeria.

The OBSERVER previously spoke with Dr. Kasirye about how race and racism often show up during public health crises. In 2014, African travelers were blamed for bringing Ebola to the U.S. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, much hate was aimed at Asians by people who blamed them for creating COVID-19.

“One of the things that we did with Ebola, and we did it again at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, is that we reached out to the communities and listened to them and assured them that we were going to do everything that we could to help to not make this about them as people,” Dr. Kasirye said of county public health’s efforts. 

“With Ebola, one of the concerns that the people from West Africa had was that they were not sure how they would be treated with this whole quarantine thing. We took the time to explain to them what the expectations were and that we would continue to work with them. I think that really helped to bridge the gap and also to assure them that we would keep any information that we get confidential,” she continued.

When COVID-19 hit, Dr. Kasirye met with leaders from the Asian community, listening to their concerns and expectations.

“That communication really helped,” Dr. Kasirye said. “ It helped for them to know that they were not going to be targeted, that their information was going to be held confidentially.”

The deadly Omicron variant was tied to South Africa, but Dr. Kasirye said she didn’t hear anti-African sentiment or threats at that time.

“I think it’s a reminder to all of us about how we talk about things,” she said. “Saying that it was first identified in South Africa, instead of saying it originated from South Africa, is important as well.”

While officials say they’re working with airlines and conducting contact tracing, there is no word of a travel ban such as the one prompted by COVID-19. As with COVID-19, however, those who are exhibiting symptoms are asked to avoid public transportation and exposure that could spread the disease. Dr. Kasirye also recommends the same masking precautions as were advised for COVID-19.

Having dealt with the coronavirus since 2020, there are obvious questions and concerns about monkeypox turning into a full-blown epidemic.

“It’s very different from COVID because of the way it’s transmitted, but we’re putting this out so that people are aware,” Dr. Kasirye said. “ We have yet to see where it’s going to go or how many cases we’re going to get. It’s important for people to be aware that we do have cases in the United States right now.”