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Monkeypox cases increase in South Florida. A disease expert tells us what we need to know

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak.

Dozens of cases have been detected in South Florida — mostly in Broward County — and those numbers are believed to be an undercount. In this interview, FIU's Dr. Aileen Marty tells us more.

The nationwide monkeypox outbreak continues to grow. Dozens of those cases have been detected in Florida — mostly in Broward County — and those numbers are believed to be an undercount.

As of Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health reported there were 73 cases of monkeypox in the state, with 54 in Broward (40) and Miami-Dade (14).

While it's not yet considered a public health emergency, the Biden administration announced plans to expand access to testing kits and vaccines.

WLRN’s Sherrilyn Cabrera learned more from Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert with Florida International University.

Click on the Listen button above to hear the interview.

MARTY: It's mostly being seen in men who have sex with men. So gay and bisexual men primarily, but not because it's a sexually transmitted disease and not because you need prolonged contact, but because it was an opportunity for that virus to spread. There have been multiple parties and festivals where many people got together that facilitated the spread of the virus in their community. But we also have cases in women and individuals who have no relationship to the community.

WLRN: How is it transmitted?

These orthopox viruses can spread once you start manifesting anything inside what we call a mucosal surface , Many times the lesions manifest like inside your mouth or in your rectum before you see anything on the skin. And so if somebody has an oral lesion, then their respiratory droplets, they're little droplets when they're speaking, can have a lot of virus. Get some of those particles into your system in a dose that's infectious, [and] you can be infected.

What are the symptoms people should look out for?

The initial symptoms in many of the people are the "I don't feel good . . A little bit of a headache, maybe get a fever, maybe your lymph nodes are swollen. And then you have your oral lesions , and then you have your skin lesions. In this particular outbreak, curiously, a lot of the people's initial skin lesions are in the anal, genital area. Once you get infected, the virus is in your blood , and it's going to pop out in particular areas based on the nature of the virus, not on the activity that you had that led to you being infected.

When someone is confirmed to have the virus, what's next? What does treatment look like?

The good news is most cases of monkeypox in this outbreak have been self-limited and don't require massive interventions. So people are going to mostly survive and do fine. They may have some scarring, and usually , the scarring is not disfigured. But if somebody is severely ill because some people do get complications like you get a bronchopneumonia, blindness, you can get sepsis, you can get secondary infections. [F or ] t hose individuals , we do have antivirals that were developed as part of the bio protection system that we have.

Fortunately, most of the cases that we've seen in the United States have been mild. We ask that person to self - isolate if they can, to wear a mask when they have oral lesions, obviously, so that they're not spreading this virus. We have actually several different antivirals. We even have some drugs that were developed for herpes that work well. Unlike COVID, we're not starting from scratch. We've known of this virus for a long time. Yes, it's a little bit different. Yes. It seems to be a little more eager to spread person to person , and that's a problem, but we do have a vaccine that works.

Why is this virus of particular importance to people in South Florida?

It has consequences that can be bad, particularly for immunocompromised individuals. And traditionally, we know that this virus, unlike COVID, is actually very severe in young children , and it also can be very bad in the very elderly. There's more than one type of monkeypox that is circulating right now in the world that's caused these thousands of cases , a nd we are noting changes that are making it more transmissible from person to person.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

During her time at Florida International University, where she recently graduated from with a Bachelors in Journalism, Sherrilyn Cabrera interned for the South Florida News Service - a digital journalism platform where stories are written, shot and edited by FIU students. As part of her senior project, she reported on the influx of Puerto Ricans who migrated to Florida after Hurricane Maria, and the impact it could have had on the November 2018 midterm elections.