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Maine detects its first case of monkeypox

FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak.

The Maine CDC says it's identified the first case of monkeypox in the state, in a man from York County.

The disease has previously been detected in 44 other states, and there are more than 15,000 cases across the globe. State public health officials say the risk is low for the public, but vaccines are in short supply.

In recent months, monkeypox has spread across more than 70 countries as part of the current outbreak. The disease is characterized by sores, a rash, and sometimes a flu-like illness.

Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said the virus appears to be spreading primarily among men who have sex with men, and transmission is different than for a respiratory disease like COVID-19, requiring close, skin-to-skin contact with a symptomatic person.

As the virus has spread, Shah said the state has been preparing for weeks, speaking with doctors and other stakeholders around detection and prevention.

"To alert clinicians to what monkeypox looked like, and to figure out how to test for it soon, we were able to detect this case," Shah said. "Thankfully, monkeypox, although it's concerning, thankfully, it's rarely fatal. Our goal right now is to make sure that those who are affected by it can get treatment, if they need it. And that the close contacts of those who have monkeypox can be offered vaccine."

So far, Maine has received the monkeypox vaccine Jynneos from the federal government, but only enough for 311 people. And Shah said with more doses not expected to arrive until mid-August, the state will have to stretch its supply. To do that, Shah said the CDC is prioritizing two groups of people to reduce the chances of serious illness or outbreak.

"The first, is for those who are contacts of people who have monkeypox, " Shah said. "The other, are those who are at higher risk of transmitting monkeypox, or having a severe case of it. People who are at higher risk include, for example, those who may have had multiple partners in the past 14 days. Or people who have a health condition, for example, something like HIV, that weakens their immune system, and makes them at higher risk for having a severe case of monkeypox."

Shah said monkeypox is rarely fatal and has lower hospitalization rates than a disease like COVID.

The CDC recommends washing hands often, and advises avoiding "close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox," and to not handle clothing or bedding, share utensils, or "kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with a person with monkeypox." The agency is also advising residents to contact a health provider if they might have been exposed or if they have a new rash or lesions.