The Oregon Health Authority is fielding rising case counts on two fronts – monkeypox and COVID-19.
Last week, the OHA reported nearly 1,500 new Covid cases across the state. The Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have come on so strong in Oregon it may seem like everyone you know has COVID-19, health care experts say, especially following the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Cases expected to continue throughout the summer.
“So many people are getting COVID-19 right now because BA.4/5 is the dominant variant in Oregon, and these sub-variants are the most contagious that we have seen in the pandemic,” said Dr. Katie Sharff, chief of infectious disease for Kaiser Permanente. “BA.4 and BA.5 are masters of immune evasion, which increases risk of reinfection, even if you are fully vaccinated or previously had a COVID-19 infection.”
Lane County reported an 11% increase in positive COVID tests last week.
“People who weren’t previously infected with Covid are getting it now, and people who have already had COVID-19 are also getting reinfected,” Sharff said.
There is hope that Omicron-specific vaccine boosters will help curb the spread this fall, but until those become available, people should be aware of how to help reduce transmission to loved ones and stay well, and what treatments they may need if they become ill, Sharff said.
For many, symptoms can be managed at home with rest and hydration. However, for the elderly or immunocompromised, treatments are available. Home antigen testing can be helpful to confirm infection, Sharff said, but it is important to remember the limitations of these antigen tests.
“A negative result does not always mean you are free and clear,” she said.
Monkeypox is also on the rise in our area – on July 7, OHA held a press conference to discuss the monkeypox virus with Tim Menza, the infectious disease physician and senior health advisor for OHA’s hMPXV or “monkeypox” response.
Menza said there are now five presumptive cases of the monkeypox virus in Oregon, three of which are in Lane County. Presumptive cases still need to be confirmed with the Center of Disease Control (CDC,) but tested positive for orthopox (the large family of viruses of which monkeypox belongs) at The Oregon State Public Health Laboratory. Symptoms associated with monkeypox are rashes that look like pimples or blisters, flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, aches and exhaustion.
Menza also noted that the recent outbreaks of monkeypox have not been associated with travel as we have seen in past outbreaks. This suggests that the disease is being spread within communities and there is a greater need for awareness, Menza said. Although the rate of transmission is relatively low compared to the recent omicron outbreak of COVID-19, Menza makes it clear that control of the virus “requires a coordinated, thoughtful, public health response … pandemics thrive in silence,” Menza encouraged the public to talk to family, friends and sexual partners and informing them if you have had symptoms. Menza also recommended checking your skin for rashes, avoiding prolonged skin-to-skin contact and attending events where close contact is common to prevent transmission, especially if you have a rash or flu-like symptoms. Given that three presumptive cases appeared overnight, Menza anticipates cases will begin to rise more rapidly and anticipates vaccinations becoming a larger part of the conversation.
Menza stated that “at this point in time we’re really focusing our efforts on post-exposure vaccination, with hopes of expanding that as more vaccines become available. I do believe we will hear more information about numbers of vaccine doses coming our way potentially tomorrow and if not, next week.”