SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) –As the summer travel and gathering season gets underway, Bay Area health officials are urging awareness about the threat of monkeypox. The virus is spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact and body fluids, such as through crowded settings of sexual contact, warned officials from several counties and jurisdictions in a joint statement.

What are monkeypox symptoms?

The warning, which was issued jointly by the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Sonoma, along with the City of Berkeley, said that cases are continuing to emerge in the Bay Area. Monkeypox symptoms manifest as distinctive rashes and sores that can resemble blisters or pimples.

Most monkeypox cases resolve on their own, the statement says, but the virus can be serious. Often the rash is preceded by flu-like symptoms and may last for two to four weeks. Post-exposure vaccinations are available through health care providers.

How monkeypox spreads

The risk to the general public is relatively low, according to the statement. Unlike COVID-19, the virus does not spread easily through the air. However, high-risk behavior, like having sexual intercourse with multiple partners or being in crowded indoor spaces, can increase the likelihood of contracting monkeypox.

“Although we have been fortunate in Sonoma County so far and have not as yet experienced any cases of monkeypox, we want to let people know how they can take precautions to keep themselves and those around them healthy,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, health officer for Sonoma County. “We know how to contain the spread of monkeypox, and we’re asking everyone to be aware of the signs of infection and the ways to prevent transmission.”

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Monkeypox threat to the LGBTQ community

Currently, many of the Bay Area monkeypox cases are appearing among self-identified gay or bisexual men, trans people, and men who have sex with other men. “People in these networks are currently at higher risk,” the statement said, “though people of any sexual orientation or gender identity can become infected and spread monkeypox.”

Bay Area health officials have warned the media, government officials and others to avoid stigmatizing or stereotyping any particular group for monkeypox. The statement also notes that other contagious illnesses that are more common than monkeypox can also cause rash or skin lesions, including syphilis and herpes.

How to protect yourself against monkeypox

The statement offers these guidelines for protecting against the virus:

  • Consider covering exposed skin in dense, indoor crowds
  • Don’t share bedding or clothing with others when possible
  • Before having close, physical contact with others, talk to your partners about their health and any recent rashes or sores
  • Stay aware if traveling to countries where there are outbreaks