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Colorado's monkeypox cases are mostly among younger men in the Denver area

Meg Wingerter, The Denver Post on

Published in News & Features

DENVER — Almost two-thirds of Colorado’s monkeypox cases have been found in the Denver area, and they’re primarily clustered in men in the first half of adulthood.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released new information about the demographics of the state’s 168 known cases on Thursday. Six people have been hospitalized for monkeypox in Colorado, but none have died.

The true number of cases is likely higher, especially since testing was limited in the first months of the outbreak. Now, most health care providers can swab rashes to test for monkeypox and commercial labs can run the tests, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said.

“Thankfully, over the last couple of weeks, there has been much greater access to testing,” she said.

Denver County had the most known cases, with 59 as of Thursday, followed by Adams (22), Arapahoe (16), Jefferson (12) and El Paso (10). An additional 14 counties had single-digit case counts. It’s not clear to what extent that reflects the virus’s true prevalence, versus public awareness and ease of access to testing.

About 85% of those infected are cisgender men, 3.5% are cisgender women and another 3.5% are transgender or identify some other way. Data about gender was missing for the rest.

More than half of those infected are white, but Black and Hispanic people make up a disproportionate share of cases. Almost two-thirds of people who tested positive identified as gay; about 10.5% were bisexual; just over 8% were heterosexual; and the rest either didn’t answer or described themselves some other way.

About 76% of cases were in people between 25 and 44. No children have tested positive in Colorado, though nine have nationwide.

The state is working with groups serving people of color, the LGBTQ community, those who are homeless and other at-risk populations to get out the word about testing and vaccines, said Scott Bookman, director of the state health department’s division of disease control and public health response. So far, more than 3,500 vaccine doses have gone out to 59 providers in the most-affected areas, he said.

 

Bookman said “several thousand” people have joined wait lists for vaccines, though the true number waiting isn’t known because some of them signed up in multiple places. People can receive second doses now, and the state will start reaching out to people who are due for a second shot as the supply increases, he said.

Colorado is planning to follow new guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that allows the vaccine to be given in a smaller dose directly under the skin, where immune responses tend to be stronger. It should be equivalent to giving a larger dose deeper under the skin, but there are no studies proving that it is.

Monkeypox can look like pimples, blisters, or bumps on the skin, said Dr. Connie Price, chief medical officer at Denver Health. Some people have flu-like symptoms before or after the rash appears, but others don’t. The people at highest risk now are gay and bisexual men and transgender people who have multiple sexual partners, have anonymous partners, or had close contact with others in a venue where group sex happens, she said.

People who are diagnosed with monkeypox need to avoid pets and other people until their lesions have healed, Herlihy said. It’s also important that they answer phone calls from their local health department, so the contact tracers can reach people who might qualify for post-exposure vaccination or treatment, she said.

Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox doesn’t spread especially easily. It can transmit through people’s respiratory droplets, but it would likely take hours of sitting near a person with monkeypox to get the virus that way, Herlihy said. So far, sex is the main avenue of transmission, though it can also spread through close contact like kissing, hugging, or cuddling, she said.

While monkeypox is concerning, humans some advantages we didn’t have against the virus that causes COVID-19, Price said. This virus doesn’t mutate quickly, there’s more time to reach people who were exposed before they get sick and it appears people can’t spread it if they don’t have symptoms, she said.

“We have an opportunity that is much greater than we had with COVID-19 to contain the virus,” she said.

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