Maryland health officials for the first time are offering details about who is being infected with monkeypox, releasing data showing most cases are concentrated in Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
More than half of the patients are Black, according to a monkeypox data dashboard the Maryland Department of Health launched on Friday.
All told, 461 people have had confirmed monkeypox infections in the state. The largest concentration is in Prince George’s County (38%), followed by Baltimore City (29%), Montgomery County (12%), Baltimore County (8%) and Anne Arundel County (6%). To protect patient privacy, the state is not offering further details of cases in other counties because each has fewer than 10 patients.
Patients are overwhelmingly male (95%) and in the 20-to-49 age range, with nearly half in their 30s.
Monkeypox is a rare but contagious illness that causes a rash that can last for weeks. Other symptoms can include a fever, aches, chills, exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes and respiratory difficulties, such as a cough or sore throat.
Monkeypox can spread by prolonged contact with an infected person’s rash or bodily fluids or through respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though not a sexually transmitted infection, monkeypox can be spread through intimate contact, such as kissing, cuddling or sex, according to the CDC.
Monkeypox also can spread through touching fabrics and surfaces that have been used by someone who is infected.
In the current outbreak, many patients have been identified as men who have sex with other men.
Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. federal government have declared monkeypox to be a public health emergency; Gov. Larry Hogan has not declared a state-level emergency. The first monkeypox case was reported in Maryland in June.
By sharing the demographic data about monkeypox cases, health officials can focus on how to tailor their response to the outbreak, including public messaging and distributing vaccines and treatments, said Peter DeMartino, director of infectious disease prevention for the Maryland Department of Health.
“This is providing us insight into who is being impacted and where they are being impacted,” DeMartino said.
There’s been a high demand for a monkeypox vaccine, which can be used both to prevent infection and after an individual is exposed to someone else with the infection. So far, 2,214 individuals have received the monkeypox vaccine, according to the state dashboard, which did not provide any further information about those who received vaccinations.
The state also announced that local health departments are offering the vaccine to those who have known exposure and certain health care and lab workers who may be at risk.
In Baltimore City and Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, health officials will offer the vaccine to self-identified partners of monkeypox patients as well as high-risk individuals who in the prior two weeks have had group sex, sex with multiple partners or had sex or employment at a venue where monkeypox transmission has been reported. Other counties will offer vaccines under those criteria as their supply allows.
Anyone seeking the monkeypox vaccine should contact their local health department. The federal government is controlling the distribution of the vaccine to states, and DeMartino said vaccine doses are available in every county for those at highest risk of contracting monkeypox.
He stressed, however, that only very specific groups of people are allowed to be vaccinated. “The risk to the general public remains incredibly low,” he said.
Any doctor’s office can perform testing for monkeypox, which involves “vigorous swabbing” of a suspected monkeypox lesion to obtain material that’s sent to a lab for testing, DeMartino said. The turnaround time for lab results is about three days.
The state dashboard will be updated each Friday, officials announced.
And while the state is breaking down monkeypox data by age, race, gender, ethnicity and geography, there’s no indication of how much monkeypox may be spreading in group living situations such as dorms, jails and nursing homes.
The Maryland Department of Health could expand the scope of information posted on the dashboard, said Chase Cook, a department spokesman.
“We are open to adjusting, adapting and providing more information as necessary,” Cook said.
State employees who work in hospitals, prisons and juvenile facilities — known as congregate care facilities — are concerned about the risk to themselves and those they care for, according to Patrick Moran, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, the largest union of state employees.
AFSCME members say there have been outbreaks in state-run facilities that have not been announced to staff or the public.
The University of Maryland, College Park announced last week that an employee was the first case of monkeypox associated with the campus.
Many state workers have significant contact with the public or those in custody, putting them at risk, especially those who provide medical care and personal hygiene to vulnerable individuals, Moran said.
The state is simply “going through the motions” by not instituting sufficient safety protocols and sharing information, Moran said.
“They are not talking to employees about this at length or in any productive way. They have not met with us to talk about the environment and how we can work together to make things better for employees and the public,” Moran said.
For Moran, monkeypox recalls the struggles of the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when useful information as well as personal protective equipment were in short supply. Eventually the state started reporting coronavirus case counts in private nursing homes as well as state prisons, hospitals and juvenile facilities.
Moran said the AFSCME union wants a clear “action plan” from the state government that includes input from state workers.