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Kansas doctors stress need to stay vigilant as monkeypox becomes a public health emergency

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TOPEKA — Kansas doctors are hoping to combat misinformation and general fatigue toward infection control protocols as a new public health emergency emerges, this time for monkeypox.

COVID-19 cases have leveled out the past few weeks in Kansas, and heat maps nationwide show similar trends, but the public health emergency remains with warnings about new variants. Federal officials declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday.

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While most patients who have monkeypox are men who have sex with men, Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System, is encouraging everyone to stay vigilant.

“We have seen this throughout history and throughout other diseases as well — it doesn’t stick to demographics. The viruses, the infections, don’t care who you are,” Hawkinson said during a media briefing Wednesday.

Hawkinson added that efforts to inform people of preventive measures and vaccines available to treat monkeypox should be ongoing.

“Hopefully, we are working on that as a nation and really trying to roll out the supply of vaccines as we get them, but also create that access so that everybody has access to those vaccines,” he said.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday the administration had delivered more than 600,000 vaccines in partnership with local, state and tribal governments.

More than 7,100 monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The hardest-hit states are New York, California, Illinois, Florida, Georgia and Texas. One case has been reported in Kansas.

Steven Stites, chief medical officer with KU Health, is concerned another health emergency will contribute to growing COVID-19 weariness. While reported case numbers have plateaued, he warned the actual numbers could be a lot higher.

“I think there’s a lot of people out there with COVID right now, and the lack of any real public health information probably misleads us a little bit,” Stites said. “I think a ton of people have COVID. I think this may be our highest surge we’ve actually had.”

Hawkinson urged Kansans that use at-home tests and return a negative result to retest one or two days later if they have symptoms, unless they have a PCR test. With a return to school right around the corner and most districts opting for optional masking, Hawkinson also urged parents to vaccinate kids to protect themselves and staff.

“We have seen a large decrease in the amount of teachers, but also substitute teachers, and we need to keep schools going,” Hawkinson said. “We need to keep kids in school. It helps for their emotional, physical and mental health, but also things such as school lunches and just safe places.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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