NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Updating the status of two serious health concerns in New Mexico, health officials say the state has registered 10 known cases of monkeypox, while COVID cases appear to have plateaued with the latest omicron variant. The update came Thursday in a news conference from Acting NMDOH Secretary Dr. David Scrase and Deputy Secretary Laura Parajon.
It’s been nearly a month since the state detected its first presumptive case of monkeypox. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has continued to register roughly 6,000 new confirmed cases per week since July 2022.
New Mexico reported its first probable case of monkeypox on July 11. According to the state, the patient returned from out-of-state travel and was “likely exposed through contact.”
Thursday, Dr. David Scrase referred to monkeypox as “the new infection disease on the block,” something that the state is “taking quite seriously now.” On Thursday, the White House declared monkeypox a “public health emergency.”
“It’s a viral infection in the same family as small pox,” Dr. Laura Parajon said Thursday. “It doesn’t usually cause serious illness, but it can result in painful legions or sores, and rarely results in hospitalizations and or deaths.”
The virus continues to spread in the U.S. and around the world, Parajon said, part of the reason why its become an “public health emergency.” So far, New Mexico says of its 10 known cases in the state, each case has come from someone who reported out-of-state contact, meaning the state doesn’t believe it has seen any “community spread” yet.
Monkeypox is typically spread through skin to skin contact, but Parajon says it can also be spread with contact through clothing, bedding, towels or surfaces used by someone with monkeypox. Prolonged face to face contact or intimate contact are other ways the virus can be spread.
“It’s important to know monkeypox is not spread through casual conversation, or walking by someone with monkeypox,” Parajon said. Symptoms, which usually emerged with 7 to 14 days of exposure, include fever, headache, muscle ache, backaches, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes—which is the main distinguishing symptomatic factor between smallpox and monkeypox. Smallpox does not typically cause swollen lymph nodes.
One to three days after the onset of fever, patients develop a rash that typically begins on the face and then spreads to other areas of the body. The lesions then progress through different stages before falling off.
The state is testing for monkeypox and offering vaccines to vulnerable groups. For more information, visit this link to NMDOH’s website on the virus.
“COVID is pretty stable in the state,” Dr. David Scrase said Thursday, while providing a caveat. “Though, we’re still we’re still at a high level of cases.”
The state is aiming to stay under 28 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, which is considered a “high rate of spread” by the CDC. Right now, the state is averaging roughly 40 cases per 100,000 people.
While the state meets federal criteria for a “high rate of spread,” Dr. Scrase notes that hospitalizations have also plateaued. As of August 4, around 164 people are in New Mexico hospitals with COVID-19. Back in January, roughly 700 people were in New Mexico hospitals with COVID-19 on a daily basis.
“The disease itself seems to be causing a lot less hospitalizations as a percentage of people who get COVID and this [omicron] variant than previous strains,” Dr. Scrase said. “That’s good news for us, right? It’s a less virulant, less aggressive variant in some ways, and you can also see that the number of ventilated patents [in New Mexico] has dropped down to just six.”
In the realm of deaths, Dr. Scrase says New Mexico has seen more COVID-cases resulting in death in the last two weeks. The state has reported more than 32 deaths in the last 14 days.
The state is reminding parents that COVID vaccines are available for kids newly entering school, the four to five year old age group. Another vaccine is also now available for New Mexicans 18 years and older, made by Novavax.
Novavax’s vaccine is different from Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines. Calling it an “old school, protein based vaccine,” Dr. Scrase said Novavax’s vaccine uses pieces of the spike protein to “build antibodies that can prevent COVID-19 from infecting cells and causing illness.” 13 New Mexican health providers have ordered the Novavax vaccine, which hasn’t been approved for boosters yet.
The state is also preparing for omicron-specific vaccines from Pfizer, which is expected to be available as early as September. The state says it is still awaiting data on the vaccine, which hasn’t yet received FDA approval.