Prior to July 18, the only knowledge I had about monkeypox was that it made for some pretty funny memes on Twitter. I had no expectation of what exactly a rare disease essentially looked like other than what was being vaguely mentioned – and stigmatized – on social media, and for that, I was quite misinformed.

Monkeypox is – or moreso was by the way it is impacting the nation – a rare disease initially discovered in 1958 within a colony of monkeys used for research with a first human reported case in 1970, according to the CDC.

According to the Fresno County Health website, symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion, which then leads to a rash that begins on the face then spreads to other parts of the body.

Surprisingly enough, 2022 is bearing witness to an astounding outbreak of cases of monkeypox – 1,814 reported cases in the nation as of July 18 – and our county does not seem too prepared.

The Fresno Bee published an article on July 1 warning the county that it was “only a matter of time” until the county got hit with monkeypox, which is what was reported by Fresno County Health officials.

As of July 18, that time has come. The first confirmed case of monkeypox has hit Fresno County. Yet, the reaction time of our Department of Health has been nothing less than a disappointment. 

The team allocated to bear responsibility for this outbreak is composed of less than 10 people – ‘investigators’ is the term used to regard themselves. But there seems to be a lack of urgency.

The first reported carrier in Fresno County had their sample collected on Friday, July 15, and was tested throughout the weekend. Before 10 a.m. Monday morning, the first reported carrier of monkeypox in Fresno County received their positive result, but it wasn’t until midday when the Fresno County Department of Health was notified.

Two critical hours that were lost that could have potentially kept more people from getting infected and more importantly, allowed the department to get their hands on the antiviral vaccine.

A week prior, I came into contact with the carrier, now forcing me to think critically about my next steps, which I’m afraid has to be done without the confidence of those in charge to handle such an outbreak.

I was notified by the carrier almost immediately via text about the results, forcing me to contact the department. My call with them seemingly bewildered the investigator since she was so sure there had been no reported cases within the county.

How has the Fresno County Department of Health not followed up appropriately with patients in hospitals and testing sites for an urgent outbreak? As a Fresno County resident, I would expect this dedicated department to be breathing down the necks of doctors, hospitals, and these testing centers for the sake of a county home to nearly a million people. 

I am unfortunately left in the dark, living with a family that includes an infant, a breastfeeding mother, and an expecting mother. After being regarded as an individual with confirmed exposure to monkeypox, there still seems to be absolutely no urgency from this department.

I was supposed to wait until Tuesday, July 19, where “they will be sitting down with doctors to discuss the following steps with the antiviral vaccine.”

Mind you, Jim Guy reported for The Fresno Bee that “Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer for the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said Friday that he had no doubt of the presence of the virus in Fresno.” This article was published 18 days prior to the first reported case. The department and health professionals have had ample time to set up a plan to keep me and potentially more people from infecting even more Fresno citizens.

I proceed to scrutinize our local government as a whole and the doctor’s that have kept the approval of the antiviral vaccine from the public – or at the very least, available for when the county got hit with monkeypox. Why hasn’t the county had these vaccines ready? Sacramento has them ready. 

Monkeypox has seen the trend of being circulated by men who have sex with men, which has allowed the media to really regard it as a ‘gay man’s disease’ or an STI/STD. This should not be done and could potentially lead to grave stigma against queer communites, and by the looks of it, it probably already has. I can’t help but feel as though the lack of urgency with this outbreak is because it is seen as something only the gays are to endure. However, being in close contact with someone who has symptoms puts you at risk. Period.

I was taught a jarring lesson that has left me disillusioned by the local government and the medical professionals that dedicate themselves to the health of the community. Always advocate for yourself.

Ivan Manriquez (he/him/his)

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