Infectious Disease Jul 25, 2022

Monkeypox in Travis County: An FAQ

Learn more about the virus, stay up-to-date with the latest case counts and get familiar with community resources in the Austin area

Reviewed by: Rama Thyagarajan, MD

Written by: Lauren Schneider

An actual image of the monkeypox virus is shown against a black background. The virus is blue and circular, with the spike protein surrounding it.

Update: This piece was edited on December 5 to reflect more recent information from the City of Austin regarding case counts and vaccine availability.

On Sunday, July 17, a representative for University Health Services at UT Austin confirmed a case of monkeypox in the university community. The announcement came just days after Austin Public Health reported community spread of monkeypox in Austin and Travis County, meaning that infection in the area can no longer be attributed to a single individual or population.

“This is the first time that local transmission is being reported without any discrete epidemiologic link to countries of monkeypox endemicity “ said Michael Stefanowicz, DO, at a joint town hall between Dell Medical School and the Travis County Medical Society on July 14. Dr. Stefanowicz serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at Dell Med.

How many monkeypox cases are there in Travis County?

As of December 5 there are 254 confirmed cases of the virus in Travis County. The latest case counts can be found on the City of Austin website.

How is monkeypox transmitted?

Kristin Mondy, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Dell Med who also serves as the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, described common methods routes of monkeypox transmission at the town hall.

According to Dr. Mondy, contact with the following can result in a monkeypox infection:

  • Respiratory droplets: “We don’t think of it like COVID. We think of very close, prolonged contact.”
  • Skin lesions
  • Bodily fluids
  • Contaminated objects or surfaces

Routes of entry

Dr. Mondy said the virus can enter the body through the following:

  • The respiratory tract
  • Mucous membranes (such as those in the mouth and genitals)
  • Close skin contact with infected rash or body fluids

What are symptoms associated with monkeypox?

The primary symptom associated with monkeypox is a rash that may resemble pimples or blisters. Rama Thyagarajan, MD, an infectious disease expert at the Infectious Disease Clinic at UT Health Austin, describes these lesions as “rounded, sometimes with a white spot [and] sometimes with a dimple in the center.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website lists additional symptoms of monkeypox, which include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Monkeypox symptoms typically last 2-4 weeks.

What should I do if I exhibit monkeypox symptoms?

The CDC recommends that individuals with symptoms of monkeypox contact their healthcare provider, who will connect them to local testing and treatment initiatives. Austinites without a healthcare provider can call Austin Public Health’s Equity Line at 512-972-5560.

In Travis County, “the testing and treatment for monkeypox has to be coordinated through Austin Public Health, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the CDC,” says Dr. Thyagarajan.

She adds that practitioners at the Infectious Disease Clinic can help patients address additional clinical concerns related to monkeypox alongside the testing and treatment coordinated by these groups.

What should I do if I test positive for monkeypox?

According to Dr. Thyagarajan, people who have tested positive for monkeypox should avoid the following:

  • Close physical (skin-to-skin) interaction with another person, whether the contact is sexual or platonic in nature
  • Sharing common spaces (e.g. bedrooms, bathrooms) with others
  • Sharing personal items (i.e. bedsheets, razors, and furniture) with others

Upon testing positive, people should also contact anyone with whom they have recently been in such close contact.

Dr. Thyagarajan says any person with monkeypox should uphold these precautions as long as they still have active lesions and pustules. “If they feel fine and all the lesions have scabbed off, they can resume normal activity.”

Are monkeypox vaccines available in the Austin area?

Austin Public Health is administering its limited current vaccine supply to the following individuals.

People with a known or presumed exposure to monkeypox

  • Individuals known to have had close contact with a person infected with the monkeypox virus in the past 14 days
  • Individuals presumed to have had close contact with a person infected with the monkeypox virus based on the following criteria:
    • Multiple sexual partners in the past weeks
    • Attendance at an event where sexual contact occurred with more than one partner

People at higher risk for monkeypox infection

  • Those who may be exposed to monkeypox in a clinical or laboratory setting
  • Those who take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV
  • Those diagnosed with a sexually-transmitted infection (e.g. syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or HIV) in the past 12 months
  • Men (cisgender and transgender) 18 years or older who meet both of the following criteria:
    • Have sex with men
    • Have had multiple or anonymous sexual partners during the past 21 days

More information about eligibility can be found at the Wellness Equity Alliance website.

How can I avoid the spread of monkeypox?

Dr. Thyagarajan says that people should avoid close physical contact of any sort with anyone with any skin lesion that looks like pimples, even if only one or two lesions are present, and individuals who are being tested for monkeypox.

People who believe they have been in close contact with somebody with monkeypox should contact their healthcare provider. Individuals in Travis County can call Austin Public Health’s Equity Line at 512-972-5560 for more information about monkeypox.

Where can I learn more about the monkeypox outbreak?

CDC | Monkeypox | Frequently Asked Questions

CDC | Monkeypox | 2022 U.S. Map & Case Count

Texas DSHS | Monkeypox

City of Austin | Monkeypox

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.