Hamilton County preps for monkeypox after first Tennessee cases reported

FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)

Hamilton County Health Department officials said they're working with state and local partners to prepare for potential cases of monkeypox locally after three people were confirmed positive for the virus in Tennessee over the past week.

Tennessee's first reported case was found in a Nashville resident, and two more unrelated cases have since been identified in Davidson County, according to reports from the Metro Nashville Public Health Department.

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease in the same family as smallpox and was first detected in humans in 1970, but until May 2022, nearly all monkeypox cases in people were found in or linked to international travel to African countries where the disease normally occurs or through imported animals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Since the 2022 outbreak began, the CDC has reported 929 confirmed monkeypox cases in the United States, including 48 cases in Georgia.

Holden Young, a spokesperson for the Hamilton County Health Department, said via email that the department has investigated some suspected cases and will notify the public if and when a local case is confirmed.

"We work closely with area providers and the first step is discussing testing options for the individual. If testing is indicated, while awaiting test results, the person is directed to isolate from others," Young said. "If the test comes back positive, health department staff do a case investigation to identify any close contacts as well as giving guidance on maintaining isolation. In addition, staff attempt to trace the source of infection to prevent further spread as well as offer treatment and vaccination."

Monkeypox is rarely fatal, and infected people typically experience flu-like symptoms along with a rash that resembles pimples or blisters that can persist for several weeks. Sometimes a rash is the only symptom.

The virus is typically spread by direct contact with the rash or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal, and it cannot be spread by people who do not have symptoms, making it much more difficult to contract compared to an airborne disease like COVID-19.

The origin of the disease is unknown, but it's thought that rodents and non-human primates - such as monkeys - might harbor the virus, hence the name monkeypox, according to the CDC. It's unrelated to chickenpox.

Smallpox vaccines may be used to prevent monkeypox infections in people who are diagnosed, exposed to or at high risk for infection.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.