Bartholomew County health officials monitoring for any monkeypox cases

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Bartholomew County health officials are monitoring the expanding outbreak of monkeypox that has infected more than 11,000 people in the United States, saying that it is “only a matter of time” before the once-rare disease is detected locally.

Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people, The Associated Press reported. The virus, which belongs to the same family as smallpox, is endemic in parts of Africa. But this year more than 31,000 monkeypox cases have been reported in countries that historically don’t see the disease, including the United States.

Earlier this month, the U.S. declared a national public health emergency in an effort to slow the outbreak, according to wire reports. The announcement frees up money and other resources to fight the virus, which may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.

As of Friday, there had been 78 confirmed cases of the virus in Indiana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bartholomew County health officials and Columbus Regional Health were not aware of any local cases of the virus last week.

“I do believe it is only a matter of time before we start seeing some cases locally,” said Bartholomew County Health Officer Dr. Brian Niedbalski.

The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing, according to wire reports. The people who have gotten sick so far have been primarily men who have sex with men.

But health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone if they are in close contact with an infected person or fabrics that touched an infected person. Two children in Indiana had been infected with the virus as of July 29, the Indiana Department of Health said.

CRH officials said that the hospital system is in a “heightened level of awareness” and “monitoring the situation.”

“It is something that we want the public to be paying attention to, especially now, because it has been elevated to a national public health emergency,” said CRH spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue. “…It is something that we’d like the public to take seriously.”

For more on this story, see Wednesday’s Republic.