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Monkeypox detected in Southern Nevada wastewater

Updated August 1, 2022 - 6:00 pm

Monkeypox has been detected in Southern Nevada’s wastewater, suggesting there are more infections than the 23 cases reported in Clark County, a UNLV researcher said Monday.

The level of virus is “relatively low” and has been detected in wastewater from the Strip and at least one wastewater treatment plant, said Edwin Oh, a researcher and assistant professor with the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV.

People infected with monkeypox excrete monkeypox virus DNA through skin lesions, saliva, feces and urine, which can enter the wastewater via toilets, sinks and shower drains.

The type of wastewater surveillance done by Oh and other researchers can provide an early indication of disease trends. “Using this system, we should be able to better define whether the amount of monkeypox virus in our communities is increasing (or decreasing) over time,” Oh said in an email.

The Southern Nevada wastewater surveillance system is one of the first in the country to detect monkeypox, he said.

As of Monday, there had been 23 probable or confirmed cases in Clark County, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.

“We can’t say that our findings translate to an exact number of infected people yet,” Oh said. “However, the fact that we can detect the signal from wastewater suggests that more people in Southern Nevada may be infected than the current (reported) number.”

Federal public health officials are attempting to tamp down the outbreak in the U.S. by distributing to states the Jynneos vaccine, which they say can protect people even after they’ve been exposed to the disease and before they develop symptoms. However, the vaccine remains in short supply across the country.

The Southern Nevada Health District has distributed about 400 doses in roughly the past week.

“Due to limited supplies, we are not able to provide vaccine to all individuals who are seeking vaccine at this time and we are awaiting additional doses,” health district representative Stephanie Bethel said in an email.

The district has no timeline for when it will receive additional doses, Bethel said. She encouraged people to check the agency’s website for vaccine appointments, which will become available as more supplies arrive.

There have been nearly 5,200 monkeypox cases reported in the United States as part of a recent global outbreak. The disease is rarely fatal, but causes painful lesions that can result in scarring. The virus is spread primarily through close skin-to-skin contact, federal public health officials have said. Cases primarily have been in men who have sex with men; however, anyone may become infected through close, intimate contact.

On Thursday, San Francisco’s mayor announced a state of emergency over the growing number of cases. And on Saturday, officials in New York City declared a public health emergency, calling the city the “epicenter” of the outbreak. As of Monday, New York state led the nation with 1,345 cases, followed by California with 799 cases, according to the CDC.

Oh said about the local wastewater surveillance, “We have been looking hard since we are so close to California and we suspected that Las Vegas would be a place where transmission would take place.”

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency on July 23. The once-rare disease has been established in parts of central and west Africa for decades but before May was not known to cause large outbreaks beyond the continent or to spread widely among people.

Since May, there have been nearly 24,000 monkeypox cases reported in 80 countries, with about 75 suspected deaths in Africa, mostly in Nigeria and Congo. Since Friday, Brazil and India have each reported a single death, and Spain has reported two, the first deaths reported outside of Africa.

For more information, visit https://www.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/Health-Topics/monkeypox/.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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