Officials to begin monitoring Winters, Esparto wastewater for monkeypox levels

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Wastewater monitoring shows levels of COVID-19 in Yolo County have dropped significantly since June, but levels of monkeypox (also known as MPOX) will be looked at in Yolo County communities.

Currently wastewater in Davis, Sacramento and on the UC Davis campus are being monitored for MPOX by the same agencies that have been monitoring for COVID-19, according to Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson.

Beginning in the next couple of weeks, Healthy Central Valley Together (the offshoot of Healthy Davis Together) will begin monitoring wastewater for MPOX in Winters, Esparto and Woodland.

But as of last week, only Davis had monkeypox virus in its wastewater, with the virus detected on Aug. 20 and Aug. 26. Sacramento’s MPOX levels in wastewater peaked in July and have since declined and leveled off, while Davis levels have increased since about Aug. 20.

In the last two weeks, Yolo County has confirmed three cases of the virus countywide, though officials have not indicated where in the county those cases were identified.

So what should residents know about the virus?

“In most persons,” Sisson said, “MPOX causes mild illness. But four percent of persons infected have required hospitalization to date.”

MPOX spreads from person to person through direct physical contact, often through sex, but also through kissing, hugging or other skin-to-skin contact. The virus can also spread through contaminated surfaces and objects like towels or clothing.

“There is theoretical risk of spread through prolonged face-to-face contact over hours, but this is not thought to play a significant role in the current outbreak,” Sisson said.

She added that anyone can get the virus, “so it’s important for everybody to understand how the disease spreads and how to protect themselves.

“At this point in the outbreak, nearly all cases have been in men, particularly men who have sex with men. Gay and bisexual men are especially urged to take steps to protect themselves against infection and to seek vaccination.”

The overall risk of MPOX infection in Yolo County is low right now, said Sisson, “but common sense precautions like avoiding physical contact with persons who are ill or have an unexplained rash, not sharing food, drink, clothing or towels, and washing hands frequently can protect against several diseases, including MPOX.”

Given the three cases identified in Yolo County so far, “additional cases will likely be identified in coming days and weeks consistent with a growing state and nationwide outbreak,” Sisson said.

A bit of good news related to having local cases is the increase in vaccine supply Yolo County will now receive from the federal government.

“While our supply overall remains limited, at just 110 vials, it has expanded significantly from just 20 vials two weeks ago,” said Sisson. “This expansion in our supply means that we can begin to vaccinate persons at high risk for MPOX exposure, not just those already exposed.”

Those individuals include persons with a recent sexually-transmitted disease, multiple or anonymous partners, those who have sex for money or drugs, and the immunocompromised.

“We are sharing doses with local healthcare providers so they can vaccinate their high-risk patients,” Sisson said.

Meanwhile, the local COVID-19 situation continues to show improvement.

“I’m pleased to report that nearly all COVID metrics in Yolo County are trending downward,” Sisson told the Yolo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The case rate in Yolo County, she said, has decreased from over 50 per 100,000 residents in June to 13.5 as of Friday.

“The case rate underestimates actual cases, given the popularity of antigen tests which aren’t included in the case rate,” Sisson noted, “but the downward trend indicates a reduction in covid transmission.”

Further confirmation of that trend is found via wastewater monitoring, where a downward trend is also evident, she added.

“Davis, Esparto and Woodland all show flat or decreasing levels of the virus that causes COVID-19 in wastewater, although wastewater levels are increasing in Winters,” Sisson said.

But “compared to late June, wastewater levels have decreased at all monitoring sites across the county.”

Meanwhile, Yolo County now has dropped below the threshold for high community transmission and is now considered to have substantial community transmission.

“If our COVID-19 numbers hold steady or continue to improve, you can look forward to new signs on building entrances next week,” said Sisson, referring to the color-coded posters the county is providing to businesses in order to advise customers on mask recommendations.

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