Two and a half years after the initial rise of Covid-19, case counts are rising for another disease that senior living operators should keep an eye on.
The disease is Monkeypox, a rare infection caused by a virus related to smallpox. As of Aug. 16, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has tracked 12,689 cases since the start of the year.
The White House declared it a public health emergency earlier this month.
Monkeypox is very rarely fatal, and it has not caused any deaths in the U.S. since it began spreading throughout the country earlier this year, according to the CDC. The disease causes painful rashes as well as flu-like symptoms in some cases. It spreads through close and intimate contact, often skin-to-skin; and through respiratory secretions.
Early data on the disease shows it has mostly spread among men who have sex with other men. But the CDC and other health experts have stressed time and time again that anyone is vulnerable to infection.
Now, a growing number of senior living industry experts and operators believe the disease is increasingly worth watching and planning for, given its rise and possible new endemic status.
For residents and staff, the risk of widespread infection or major disruption to operations is currently low, according to ALG Senior Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin O’Neil. But he stressed that now is a time for operators to plan ahead and ensure their infection control protocols are up to date.
“We must remain vigilant as more cases are being identified in the U.S.,” he told Senior Housing News. “The most important thing is education and awareness about how monkeypox is spread.”
Dr. Sandi Petersen, who is senior vice president of health and wellness at Pegasus Senior Living, took a similar view.
“The danger I see is ‘infection control fatigue’ where staff have grown weary of the hyper-vigilance,” she told SHN. “Unfortunately, our seniors with their waning immune function and multiple co-morbidities are prime targets for this and similar viruses.”
Already, operators are heeding that word of warning. For example, Glen Allen, Virginia-based LifeSpire of Virginia is monitoring the disease, although CEO Jonathan Cook told SHN “it is pretty low on our radar.”
Commonwealth Senior Living is in a similar place with its preparations. The Charlottesville, Virginia-based senior living operator’s clinical team this week is holding a webinar on monkeypox for all of the company’s executive directors and nurses.
Like Cook, Commonwealth CEO Earl Parker isn’t particularly worried about a Covid-19 level disruption to operations as a result of the monkeypox virus. But, if the last two and a half years have taught him anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
“I’ll tell you, in February of 2020, I didn’t think Covid was going to be a big deal,” Parker said during a recent appearance on SHN+ TALKS. “Three weeks before our world changed, I would have told you that it’s probably not going to happen to us.”