NAVAJO NATION (KRQE) – Wednesday, the Navajo Nation confirmed the first case of monkeypox within their borders. The infected individual resides in McKinley County, New Mexico.
Following a press release, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez held an online town hall meeting with officials to discuss the situation. He warned that there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding the virus.
“I’m hoping that we’re all going to be on the same page throughout the Nation in terms of what we need to do and what to look out for,” he said. On Facebook, the Navajo Department of Health has monkeypox fact sheets explaining the virus.
Captain Brian Johnson, the acting area deputy director of the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, says that the virus is different from COVID-19, as are the symptoms. A rash is a common symptom, but muscle aches, fever, and exhaustion or chills may also appear.
The virus generally spreads by close contact with infected individuals, Johnson says. But the good news is that the Navajo Nation does have vaccines, he adds.
Roselyn Tso, the director of the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, also spoke at Thursday’s town hall meeting. Tso says that there’s currently a broad, multi-agency response to the virus.
Last month, the Navajo Nation established a Monkeypox Preparedness Team to monitor the virus, according to a press release. The Nation has also asked President Biden to prioritize vaccines for tribal members.
“Through these efforts, we’ve been able to secure doses of the monkeypox vaccines and they will be available to the Navajo people soon,” Nez said in a press release. “As cases of monkeypox began to spread across the country and into the southwest, we knew we had to prepare. Just as we saw with COVID-19, it came to a point where every region surrounding the Navajo Nation was affected. Now, we have to listen to our public health experts and adhere to their guidance once again.”
The Navajo Nation was particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, New Mexico public health officials have said they don’t expect the monkeypox virus to cause as much mortality as COVID-19 did. Still, officials urge at-risk individuals to speak with their healthcare providers about vaccines.
In New Mexico, vaccines are available for individuals who have had close contact with infected people. If you believe you’re at risk for monkeypox and are interested in a vaccine, you can call the New Mexico Department of Health at 1-855-600-3453.
Dr. Laura Hammitt, from the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, says that attending events such as family gatherings isn’t likely to lead to the spread of monkeypox. Generally, the virus requires skin-to-skin contact or sexual contact. Still, you should evaluate your level of comfort in attending events where you might come into contact with others, Hammitt says.
On top of monkeypox, the Navajo Nation is still grappling with COVID-19. Still, Nez remains positive: “We will overcome this as we have overcome many things,” Nez said. “Wearing masks has saved lives guys. So, continue to mask up.”