Health Officials Approach MPV on Lower Cape with Careful Monitoring and Education Campaign

Wednesday July 6, 2022

Race Point Beach, Provincetown, MA
Race Point Beach, Provincetown, MA  (Source:Getty Images)

According to a report from Boston's NBC Channel 10, health officials are carefully monitoring the spread of the monkeypox virus (MPV) on the lower Cape, as well as providing information about how it is spread.

"(The) biggest concern right now is making people aware that anybody can catch this disease," Maurice Melchiono, a public health nurse for the Barnstable County Health Department, told Channel 10.

Barnstable County is one of the locations keeping an eye on the virus. The county is currently tracking 19 MPV cases.

But there are concerns about the economic and social impacts of its spread, according to State Sen. Julian Cyr, who lives in Provincetown and represents the outer Cape and Islands.

"People are talking about this a lot, and I think we're most concerned about what MPV could mean for our seasonal workers," said Cyr. "If they do contract MPV, they are not going to be able to work, not just for a few days, but for a few weeks, and in a seasonal economy that can be really catastrophic."

This has led to an ongoing effort by Provincetown to educate the public on the disease. Boston television channel WCVB Channel 5 reports that Provincetown's leaders have hosted several in-person and virtual informational sessions about monkeypox over the past two weeks, most recently on June 28 with local health officials, Barnstable County health officials and representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

At the meeting, the Provincetown Independent writes, Kevin Cranston, assistant commissioner of the DPH, pointed out that MPV is not a new disease with multiple strains endemic to central Africa since the 1970s. The virus is related to smallpox, and vaccines for smallpox have proven effective against monkeypox.

The Provincetown Independent writes that the "multinational outbreak that is happening in Europe and the Americas has primarily affected gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men (MSM) but don't identify as gay. According to the World Health Organization, 'most but not all' of the cases that have appeared outside of Africa in May and June this year — 4,700 or so cases in all — have been in the gay or MSM population.

"That is because of the virus's initial appearance at 'events that were identified in Europe' — the British and American press have identified a week-long gay pride celebration in the Canary Islands in early May — and the virus's tendency to spread along lines of extremely close skin-to-skin contact, said Cranston."

"Gay men may be the ecosystem that the virus is taking advantage of†at this time,†but it's not limited to them by any means," said Cranston, who identified himself as gay at the outset of the forum.

He also pointed out how different MPV is from Covid.

In reporting on last Tuesday's meeting, The Provincetown Independent quotes Cranston: "Key variables distinguish the current monkeypox outbreak from Covid or other epidemics. The method of spread, the time to contagiousness, and the existence of treatments and vaccines are all important differences."

He added: "While we are anticipating this will be an ongoing outbreak, we don't consider this a pandemic-level event," said Cranston. "This is not a respiratory virus. This is not a virus that is easily transmitted. It requires extremely close skin-to-skin contact between a symptomatic infected individual and an uninfected individual."

WCVB reports that the community has stepped up in the education campaign: "In addition, employees of restaurants, hotels and other businesses in Provincetown have been recruited to help educate visitors and locals about monkeypox and how to prevent the spread of the virus."

As of last Thursday, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, there are 21 cases of MPV in the state since the first reported case in May. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows there have been 351 cases of the monkeypox virus this year in U.S. residents. The DPH said while many of the early cases were associated with international travel, recent cases are not.

"Gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men make up a large proportion of the cases identified to date," the DPH said in a news release. "However, the risk is not limited to the LGBT community, and anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk."

According to WCVB: "Early symptoms of monkeypox can include fever, headache, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes, but a rash may be the first symptom. Rash lesions start flat, become raised, fill with clear fluid (vesicles) and then become pustules (filled with pus). A person with monkeypox can have many lesions or they may only have a few.

"While the virus does not spread easily between people, people can spread the infection once they develop symptoms. Transmission occurs through direct contact with body fluids and monkeypox sores, by touching items that have been contaminated with fluids or sores (clothing, bedding, etc.), or less commonly, through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact."