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Detroit’s Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair said the city is taking a ‘preventative approach’ to handling monkeypox, relying on community partners and giving out vaccines. (City of Detroit photo)

The City of Detroit is using lessons it learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to fight the spread of the monkeypox virus

Denise Fair Razo, chief public health officer for the Detroit Health Department, said the city is taking a “preventative approach” when it comes to handling monkeypox and relying on its  partners to help keep residents informed about the risks and available resources.  

“If anyone is engaged in behaviors that may put them or their partners at risk for contracting the monkeypox,” Fair Razo told BridgeDetroit, “we want them to come to the health department and roll up their sleeves. It’s really a no questions, conversation. If you want the MPV (monkeypox virus) vaccine, we want to provide it to you.”

Monkeypox is a viral infection closely related to smallpox and causes the same symptoms — flu-like fevers, headaches, backaches, muscle aches and chills. The virus is rarely fatal. 

The virus is transmitted by close, personal contact, including skin-to-skin touches, kissing or other sexually intimate contact, or by touching fabrics or objects touched by someone infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can also be transmitted to the fetus. 

There are 90 confirmed cases of the virus in Michigan, 24 of them in Detroit alone, as of Thursday. There were 11,177 confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S. as of Friday afternoon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Since Detroit announced in late July that it was offering the Jynneos vaccine, the city has administered 100 doses. Unlike COVID-19, Fair Razo said there hasn’t been any signs of vaccine hesitancy. 

“I believe last week we got 100 vaccines. This week, we’re getting another 100 which is the right amount based upon the demand that we’re seeing,” she said. 

Fair Razo said the importance of community partners in addressing potentially harmful viruses was made clear when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Fair Razo said she credits Mayor Mike Duggan’s push to open testing sites and partner with hospitals and other community leaders to get the word out around COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. 

“The second thing that we learned is that public health, whether you like it or not, has to extend beyond the four walls of the Health Department,” she said. “We have to go out into the community and meet people where they are, which is what we’re doing with monkeypox.”

Among the recorded monkeypox cases in the U.S., 99% occurred in men, 94% of whom reported recent male-to-male sexual or close intimate contact, according to the CDC. 

Some queer advocates in Detroit have said the heightened risk to gay men could create a stigma for a virus that can be harmful to everyone. Messaging around it, they said, can be “triggering.”

Fair Razo said the health department has connected with Detroit’s LGBTQ community about messaging for the monkeypox virus and vaccine availability. She said the department is “not afraid to have a conversation.” 

“We have great partners in the community. They’ve come to us saying what can we do to get the monkey pox education, conversation out in the community,” she said. 

Fair Razo stressed that despite the LGBTQ community being most at risk right now, “everyone can get the virus, it doesn’t matter your sexual preference or identity.”

The city has a nurse hotline for individuals who believe they have been exposed to MPV or are experiencing symptoms. For information, call (313) 876-4444 or visit the Detroit Health Department website.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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