Health

These Are the Colorado Places Where Monkeypox Is Spreading

Dr. Rachel Herlihy is the state epidemiologist for Colorado.
Dr. Rachel Herlihy is the state epidemiologist for Colorado. colorado.gov
During an August 18 press conference, leading Colorado health officials shared updated information about the latest infectious disease moving across Colorado: monkeypox, a malady similar to smallpox. The CDPHE's new monkeypox data dashboard reveals that Denver is the epicenter of monkeypox's spread in the state, but infections have also been discovered in eighteen other counties to date, with more expected to join the roster before the situation is brought under control.

The monkeypox case count in Colorado has jumped from just two in late May to 166 as of today, August 19.

At the briefing, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Division of Disease Control and Public Health director Scott Bookman and Denver Health chief medical officer Dr. Connie Price also discussed figures related to COVID-19; the previous day, Governor Jared Polis had extended the disaster declaration put in place to deal with the pandemic. On this front, the news was mostly upbeat: COVID cases and hospitalizations have declined over the past few weeks, and the positivity rate for the disease is down substantially as well.

The details aren't nearly as hopeful regarding monkeypox, which is seldom fatal but can be absolutely agonizing. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the disease often starts with "flu-like symptoms that can include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. Typically, a rash or skin bumps develop within one to three days after the onset of fever, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body." Monkeypox "can look like syphilis, herpes, blisters or even acne," it notes, but in some recent cases, "additional symptoms have not always occurred before the rash or bumps if they have occurred at all."

Monkeypox has been mischaracterized in some quarters as a "gay disease," since a large percentage of the early cases have been linked to individuals who identify as homosexual or bisexual — and that's also the case in Colorado, where more than 75 percent of people with monkeypox fall into these categories. But at least twelve heterosexuals in Colorado have contracted monkeypox as well, and since the disease can be passed by way of direct contact with the skin lesions or scabs of an infected individual, no one is immune.

After the first infections were reported in Colorado, Polis spokesperson Conor Cahill pushed back against potential monkeypox discrimination, stating, "History has taught us that stigmatization can occur when a new disease emerges. We saw it with COVID — dog whistles and violent acts targeted Asian communities — and we know stigma surrounding the AIDS crisis decades ago continues to cause great harm to LGBTQ+ communities today. ... The governor continues to keep the public informed as new information emerges on this threat and to speak out against stigmatization of any group."

Currently, white males between the ages of 24 and 44 are most likely to catch monkeypox, but nearly half of all cases are associated with non-Caucasians, and around a third of those infected are classified as Hispanic or Latino. Denver has by far the most monkeypox cases, with 59, and the other counties with double-digit infections are all in the metro area or along the Front Range: Adams, Arapahoe, Jefferson and El Paso.

Here's a graphic from the monkeypox data dashboard with assorted statistical breakdowns. Note that Douglas and Fremont counties have been linked to fewer than three monkeypox infections:
Monkeypox vaccine is available, but Bookman confirmed that supplies are limited and thousands of Coloradans are on a wait list for shots. Click for a list of vaccine and testing locations, as well as additional information, and watch the August 18 press conference below.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts