LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Talk of a new disease spreading and a new vaccine might feel reminiscent of early COVID days, but monkeypox has been very different— for starters, a vaccine and treatment are already available for it.
However, the virus can still cause a very painful rash and flu-like symptoms, so medical experts have still urged caution.
Arkansas saw 36 new monkeypox cases on Tuesday as officials in Texas confirmed the first death of a person diagnosed with monkeypox, as well as other serious illnesses.
An autopsy is still underway to determine the official cause of death— which will now be the 11th globally death connected to the illness.
Nicki Hilliard with the Arkansas Pharmacists Association explained, "You don't get it from just casual contact in the grocery store anything, it is something that is a skin-to-skin contact."
Right now, one of the highest risk communities for monkeypox is among men who have sex with other men, but that's purely by chance than biology.
"Don't mistake that that's the only way that is spread, it is not a sexually transmitted disease," Hilliard emphasized.
Even still, members of the LGBTQ+ community have made up a large percentage of those getting their first vaccine doses.
In Arkansas, the first pharmacy to offer the vaccine was Park West Pharmacy in Little Rock.
"Park West Pharmacy, is a very affirming and safe pharmacy for the LGBTQ community, so it only kind of made sense to make sure we use an affirming pharmacy that has a link to that community," said owner Gwendolyn Herzig.
This month, the criteria for who is eligible to be vaccinated and and where people can do so expanded, as a few dozen vaccine sites opened across the state to treat those at risk.
Those at a greater risk included men who have sex with men and have potentially had multiple partners in the last year, women whose partners meet that criteria, anyone with an STI in the last month, and anyone who may have been exposed to the virus in the past 2 weeks.
"We have people coming in every day, we're actually nearing our 400 dose giving," Herzig added.
The vaccine is administered in two doses, given 28 days apart, with full protection two weeks after the last dose.
If you get the virus though, you're not out of options.
"The treatment is actually I treatment for smallpox because monkeypox and smallpox are close cousins of each other, that helps protect you from getting a more severe case," Hilliard explained.
The treatment is not currently available for everyone, though this is a serious illness.
The rash can be severely painful, so bad, that some patients have had to be hospitalized and put on the strongest opioids.
Monkeypox can last for weeks and cause flu-like symptoms— so even with such a low fatality rate, people should still be careful.
"Make sure we're washing our hands if you feel like you've been in close contact someone wears a mask, you know, wipe down surfaces, if you can, but it's really just common sense practices, make sure you keep yourself safe," Herzig said.
Arkansas has only requested about half of the allocated vaccine doses so far. We reached out to the health department to ask why that is, but no one was available for comment.
Park West Pharmacy said that they still have a good supply of the vaccine, but the shot is still only available in a few dozen pharmacies across the state.