Monkeypox cases rise in Travis County; more than 100 confirmed

Nicole Villalpando
Austin American-Statesman

Austin Public Health announced this week 118 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Travis County, up 26.9% from 93 cases last week and up 73.5% from 68 cases two weeks ago.

Hays County has eight cases. Williamson County has seven, with an additional four awaiting confirmation results.

Travis County recorded its first monkeypox case June 24. Since then, each week the cases have grown exponentially. Williamson County recorded its first case July 14, and Hays County on Aug. 12. On Aug. 9, Austin Public Health, the city of Austin and Travis County declared monkeypox a public health emergency.

More: Texas State University reports first confirmed monkeypox case

In Texas, 27 women and five children have confirmed cases of monkeypox. The rest of the cases are in adult men. Texas now has 1,432 cases, the U.S. 16,926 cases.

Monkeypox spreads through direct contact with a person who is infected, often through sex or other intimate physical contact.

Austin Public Health is recommending people take these steps to reduce their risks:

  • Decrease the number of people they have intimate contact with including sex and kissing.
  • Avoid bathhouses or other public sex venues.
  • Avoid raves, parties or clubs or other events where people wear minimal clothing and where there is direct, intimate, skin-to-skin contact.
  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact with a person who has a rash or scabs.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water and use hand sanitizer if you come in contact with a person with monkeypox.
  • Wear a mask when in close quarters with someone with monkeypox.
  • Do not touch the bedding, clothing or surfaces of someone with monkeypox.
  • Wear gloves and cover your skin with clothing if living with someone with monkeypox.
The monkeypox virus causes disease in humans and monkeys, although its natural hosts are rodents.

How to curb monkeypox:Austin, Travis County leaders declare monkeypox a public health emergency

Updated guidance from the State Health Services Department recommends vaccination against monkeypox for men who have sex with other men and have had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the past 21 days. It also prioritizes people who have had a sex partner showing signs of monkeypox, such as a rash, and it prioritizes people who have had a diagnosis of HIV or certain sexually transmitted diseases in the past year, are on HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis medications or have conditions that increase their risk of severe disease if infected, such as HIV, atopic dermatitis or eczema. Austin Public Health now has a survey on its website to fill out to schedule a vaccination if you are eligible.

People can get tested for monkeypox by calling Austin Public Health's nurse line at 512-972-5560 or through their doctor's office. You must have a rash to get tested.

The illness can take up to 21 days before symptoms such as the rash appears. It can last two to four weeks. You must isolate from other people if you've been exposed and are awaiting symptoms or test results. If you've tested positive, you must isolate until the rash has cleared up and new skin has formed.

What you need to know:Monkeypox cases continue to rise in Austin as COVID-19 cases dip slightly

Local COVID-19 cases are falling

For the second week, Travis and Williamson counties have a low level of COVID-19 risk in the community, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties remain in the medium level.

A nurse holds up a vial of monkeypox vaccine.

With a low level of spread, CDC guidelines recommend that people up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters who are not at risk for severe disease don't need to take precautions such as masking. Those at higher risk or the unvaccinated also could decide not to take precautions.

At the medium level of community spread, CDC guidelines say that precautions are optional for people who are up to date with their vaccinations, including boosters, but recommend that they wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. Under the medium level, people who are at higher risk or who are not vaccinated or not up to date in their vaccine doses are advised to use precautions while gathering, dining and shopping.

Returning to low levels:Travis, Williamson counties drop to low level of COVID-19 spread

The difference in the local counties is their transmission rates. Counties must have fewer than 200 cases per 100,000 people to be considered at a low level of spread. Travis County's rate was 155.89, down from 178.5 the week before. Williamson County's rate was 82.3, down from 168.66 the week before.

The three area counties with rates above 200 did see decreases in those rates this week. Hays County's transmission rate dropped to 216.78 from 274.99 last week. Caldwell County dropped to 251.92 from 283.99 last week. Bastrop County's level was at 223.17, down from 226.55. As soon as the transmission rates drop below 200, those counties will reach a low level.

The CDC also considers the number of new admissions in the hospital per 100,000 people and the percentage of hospital beds taken up by people with COVID-19. Those have to remain below 10 and below 10% respectively to stay in the low level.

This week, Travis, Williamson and Bastrop counties had 5.8 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people and 3.1% of staffed hospital beds taken up by people with COVID-19. Hays and Caldwell counties have hospitalization rates of 7.3 new admissions per 100,000 people and 3.5% of its hospital beds taken up by people with COVID-19.

Another illness to track:More cases of West Nile virus found in Travis County