Identity Health Clinic in Anchorage expects to receive monkeypox vaccines in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit, which serves the LGBTQ+ community, is educating people about the virus and addressing misconceptions about how it spreads.
“Anyone can get monkeypox,” said Identity health director Dr. Tracey Wiese in a virtual town hall Thursday night. “This is not a virus that is spreading just because gay people are having sex with other gay people.”
Wiese said the monkeypox virus has an incubation period of one to two weeks. About 12,000 cases have been reported nationwideand there are only two confirmed cases in Alaska so far, both in Anchorage men.
“We suspect that those two people probably had some kind of contact with other people in their lives, and it’s possible that other people are incubating the virus as we speak,” Wiese said.
Monkeypox is spread through prolonged face-to-face or skin-to-skin contact. It’s not spread exclusively through sexual contact, but that’s how most infected people are catching it. according to the World Health Organization.
It can also be spread through contact with an infected person’s belongings, such as towels, linens and dishes, if used for several hours.
Wiese said clinic staff have received calls from people wanting to learn more about monkeypox. She said she wants to help with the landing misinformation and stigma about how it spreads.
“This is not a gay virus. This is not a virus that’s only been seen among gay men,” Wiese said. “The reason we’re focusing the outreach within this community is simply that many of the reported cases have fallen within this community, so the natural thing is to target contact with those communities.”
Infected people may have flu-like symptoms before a rash or sores.
Several state health officials joined Thursday’s town hall. State epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin told the group that people can spread the virus to others even before the rash appears.
“You can have respiratory symptoms, like a runny nose, things that just look like a cold or even like COVID or the flu, and maybe there’s virus in those fluids,” he said. “Transmission is possible through that route, but it probably requires prolonged kissing and face-to-face contact for that transmission to occur.”
Scientists are still studying whether monkeypox can be spread through other body fluids, such as semen or vaginal fluids, and whether it can spread asymptomatically.
Right now, there are ways people can help reduce the spread. Wiese said people who become infected should be isolated until their symptoms improve or disappear completely. The rash should be covered well until it is completely healed.
People who are not infected should avoid close physical contact with people with flu symptoms, sores or rashes. And people should talk to their sex partners about any recent flu-like symptoms or any new sores or rashes.
Last week, the state expanded vaccine eligibility beyond just current cases and their recent close contacts. Now, men and transgender people who both have sex with men and have had multiple or anonymous sexual partners in the past 14 days can get the vaccine.
People in that group should talk to their health care provider about vaccination, especially if they are immunocompromised. Those with a history of atopic dermatitis — including eczema, burns or severe acne — are also at higher risk for severe disease.
State doctor Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz said the sooner people get vaccinated after exposure, the better.
“Ideally, if we can get the vaccine in the first four days after an exposure, it has the best efficacy in preventing monkeypox infection,” she said. “But from day four to day 14, we still give it, and there’s evidence that it will reduce the amount of symptoms.”
In Anchorage, the city’s health department has a limited supply of vaccines available. More information is available at 907-343-6718 or email@example.com. Rabinowitz said the state also hopes to work with companies like Fairweather — which directed the testing sites for COVID in Anchorage by mid-July – to distribute vaccines.
Identity expects to receive a supply of doses sometime in the next two weeks.