Health officials are investigating a “probable case” of monkeypox in an Oahu resident who was admitted to the Tripler Army Medical Center after traveling to an area with confirmed cases of the disease.

State epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said samples will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention next week for final confirmation.

“What we want everyone to know is that the risk to the general public remains low,” Kemble said Friday at a news conference. “Monkeypox does not spread easily from person to person.”

If confirmed, it would be the first case recorded in Hawaii amid concern about a series of outbreaks of the monkeypox virus outside Africa, where it is endemic.

State Epidemiologist, Hawaii State Dept of Health Dr. Sarah Kemble during a press conference held at Governor Ige's office.
State epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said masks are one preventative measure to stop the spread of monkeypox. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The Oahu resident, who presented monkeypox-like symptoms, is currently hospitalized in stable condition, Kemble said. She added that the patient had traveled to a state on the mainland that had confirmed cases but wouldn’t say which state it was.

Tripler Army Medical Center spokesperson Claudia Lamantia confirmed that a patient with a “probable case of monkeypox” had been admitted to the hospital on June 1 and officials are awaiting test results.

As of Thursday, the CDC confirmed 21 cases of monkeypox across 11 states, with the infection rates remaining relatively low.

Monkeypox is a rare disease that was discovered in 1958, according to the CDC. The disease inherited its name when two outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research. More than a decade later, the first human case was confirmed in a child in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The virus has spread to at least 31 countries outside Africa, raising alarm among scientists and public health officials, The New York Times reported.

Monkeypox is closely related to smallpox, meaning vaccines and drugs for treatment are considered similarly effective for both diseases. However, they’re not widely recommended because it’s a rare disease.

“We’re working with the CDC as part of the national investigation into monkeypox infections and coordinating meetings with the federal authorities to make sure that we have access to vaccines, antiviral medications for those who are impacted,” Kemble said.

Epidemiological specialist Joe Elm told reporters that the disease spreads through close contact with an infected person via body fluids, lesion material or the shared use of items.

Monkeypox also can spread through large respiratory droplets, or saliva, and it does not travel more than a few feet.

“Infection begins with flu-like symptoms like swollen lymph glands, and it progresses to rash often on the hands, feet, chest, face and genitals,” Elm said.

A person will generally become ill after 21 days of exposure, he said, adding that it varies individually how long monkeypox symptoms will last.

“How long it actually lasts is normally one or two weeks after the first lesion appears,” he said. “The rest of the lesions will be crusted over, and the person will be noninfectious. But some people will resolve in seven days and some in 14.”

He emphasized that people experiencing symptoms should contact their health care provider and the Department of Health.

The CDC recommends travelers to avoid close contact with people with skin or genital lesions; avoid contact with dead or live wild animals; avoid eating meat derived from wild animals from Africa; and avoid contaminated materials such as clothing, bedding and more.

Kemble said masks also are an effective way to prevent the spread of monkeypox through saliva.

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