People who suspect they have been infected with mpox should get tested, health care officials say. (Photo by Canva)

Last June, when COVID was still raging, Oregon health officials warned the public about the state’s first case of monkeypox, now known as mpox.

Cases continued to rise, peaking at 85 cases in August. By year’s end, health officials had tracked 270 cases, mostly among gay and bisexual men, though two Oregon children were also infected.

Health care providers administered thousands of doses of a vaccine and cases slowed, with only one case in December and four in January. But in recent months infections have been on the rise. 

Jonathan Modie, a senior Oregon Health Authority spokesman, said the agency expected an increase following the festivals and parties in summer. 

“Cases began to increase then, and we have seen a consistent trickling of cases each week since mid-July,” Modie said in an email. 

On Tuesday, the health authority said 17 cases had been reported between July 20 and Oct. 31, nearly double the nine cases reported between Jan. 1 and July 20. That prompted the health authority this week to alert providers to look for cases and get patients with symptoms tested. 

“We never declared the 2022 outbreak over because we were concerned about increases like the one we are seeing now,” Dr. Tim Menza, the health authority’s senior mpox adviser, said in a news release. “It gives us an opportunity to remind folks in the community that vaccination against mpox remains a valuable tool for reducing the risk of mpox infection.”

For more information about the virus, visit the health authority’s mpox website or the CDC’s webpage on the virus.  To get vaccinated, search the CDC’s locator tool by Zip code.

The disease mainly spreads through skin contact, and symptoms can emerge within a few days or weeks. The most common are flu-like – fever, chills, sweats, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue. Patients usually develop a rash that looks like pimples or blisters, perhaps first in the genital area and then on the hands, feet, chest, face or mouth. The scabs usually fall off within four weeks. 

Most people recover at home without special treatment, though the blisters are often painful. 

When the outbreak first emerged in the U.S., there was a shortage of the vaccine, Jynneos. But the health authority said the two-dose vaccine is now readily available – and free. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and Oregon health officials – say it’s safe and effective: A study published in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one dose of the vaccine prevented illness among 75% of people and that two doses protected 86%.

The health authority urges anyone at risk to get vaccinated. Modie said they include people who have been in intimate contact in the prior two weeks with someone who’s infected or anyone in close contact with them along with laboratory workers who test for the virus and providers who treat infected patients.

Anyone who suspects they have mpox should contact their primary care provider first to find out whether they should be tested before going in for a visit. If you don’t have a provider, call 211 for help.

Infections are not expected to go away, Modie said.

“The virus is now endemic to the United States and will continue to circulate among unvaccinated persons and those whose vaccine-based immunity has started to decline over time,” Modie said.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.