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North Carolina identifies first monkeypox cases in women

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North Carolina has now confirmed the state’s first cases of monkeypox in women.

The Wake County Health Department said in a news release Thursday it had identified cases of monkeypox in two female Wake County residents. The agency did not release any additional details about the women, including where they may have contracted the virus.

“While this global outbreak appears to mostly affect men who have sex with other men, monkeypox is a public health concern for all of us,” Wake County’s Preventative Health Director Rebecca Kaufman said in the release.

Across the U.S., the monkeypox virus thus far has primarily affected men who have sex with men, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has emphasized “anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, who has been in close, personal contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.” At least 132 women nationwide had been diagnosed with monkeypox as of Sunday, out of roughly 16,930 total cases.

Monkeypox usually involves flu-like symptoms, swelling of the lymph nodes and a rash. A person with monkeypox can spread the virus to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed, according to the CDC. Most infections last two to four weeks.

The virus is transmitted from person to person through skin-to-skin contact, having contact with an infectious rash, through body fluids or through respiratory secretions, the Wake County Health Department said. It can also spread by touching objects, fabrics (like clothing, bedding or towels) and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox, according to the CDC.

North Carolina has identified 288 monkeypox cases statewide since June, according to state data from Friday morning. Wake County, where the cases in women were identified, had 31 documented cases as of Thursday. Mecklenburg County has had at least 126 cases.

On Tuesday, Mecklenburg County health officials announced at least six people in the county have been hospitalized with monkeypox since the local outbreak began. The county also reported its first case of monkeypox in someone younger than 18. No deaths were reported as of Tuesday.

A monkeypox vaccine, called JYNNEOS, can prevent illness or lead to less severe symptoms if given within 14 days of when someone is exposed to monkeypox. The vaccine is administered as a series of two shots spaced 28 days apart.

Health departments across North Carolina, including in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, have been administering vaccines to people at high risk for monkeypox, including those who have been in close physical contact in the past 14 days with someone diagnosed with monkeypox or those who know their sexual partner was diagnosed with monkeypox.

The high-risk criteria also includes transgender people or men who have sex with men who report having had multiple anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.