1st case of monkeypox in Harris Co. jail confirmed, health leaders optimistic cases are leveling off

Briana Conner Image
Friday, August 26, 2022
First case of monkeypox confirmed in Harris County Jail
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Numbers from the state health department show that as of Tuesday, there are more than 500 cases of monkeypox in the Houston area.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The Harris County Jail is reporting its first case of monkeypox.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said on Twitter that an inmate who arrived on Aug. 15 was placed in quarantine, which is a standard COVID-19 protocol for the jail.

A week later, while still in quarantine, the inmate began showing possible symptoms of monkeypox, Gonzalez said.

"We are managing the care of the (man) and the well-being of our personnel," Gonzalez said, as he added that the jail is now in the process of contact tracing and disinfecting.

In an update, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo revealed the infected inmate was already isolated when the case emerged.

"I'm aware of the monkeypox case in the jail," Hidalgo tweeted. "Thankfully, the person was already in COVID quarantine for intake and the screening systems worked."

In an update on how monkeypox is impacting people in our area, leaders with the Houston Health Department and Harris County Public Health said the good news is that the virus doesn't spread in the air like COVID, which killed eight people at the Harris County Jail at the height of the pandemic.

"They did a really, really fantastic job of containing that virus. This virus has its own personality. It doesn't spread nearly as easily. Nevertheless, there's risk," Dr. David Persse with the Houston Health Department said.

Monkeypox is rarely fatal. It spreads on surfaces and skin-to-skin. Both health departments are working with the jail to contain it. Their protocol quarantining all new inmates helps, but the best defense against the virus is the vaccine.

"We're still behind the curve with the vaccine, but if people are aware of how the virus is transmitted and they adjust accordingly until they can get the vaccine, those are things that will curve the increased number of cases and level it out until we can get enough vaccine out into the population to really slow things down," Persse said.

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CDC confirms false-positive monkeypox test result for Harris County child under 2 years old

There was a sigh of relief during Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's briefing. The CDC confirmed the child's test result is a false positive for monkeypox.

Current numbers show 492 people in Harris County have tested positive for monkeypox, so far. Health department numbers are updated daily, but they can lag in terms of determining trends.

"I think it's a little bit early to say whether we are truly seeing numbers fall, but we are optimistic about it. The country, as a whole, still remains low risk," Dr. Ericka Brown with Harris County Public Health said.

Until a vaccine is widely available, health experts suggest people practice good hygiene, limit sexual partners, and keep common surfaces disinfected. Anyone with questions about guidance, testing, or vaccinations can call a monkeypox hotline: 832-927-0707.

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