Monkeypox Arrives in Miami-Dade County Jails

A colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles (yellow) found within an infected cell (green)
A colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles (yellow) found within an infected cell (green) Photo by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease
A Miami-Dade County inmate has a confirmed monkeypox infection, marking the first known case of the disease in the county's jails.

The Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department (MDCR) received an inmate on August 26 who had contracted monkeypox prior to being arrested, according to department spokesperson Anthony Paz Jr. The inmate, booked and housed at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK), was immediately placed in medical isolation by the jail's healthcare staff. The case was confirmed on August 29.

"Miami-Dade County is actively monitoring the spread of monkeypox in our community and working directly with the Florida Department of Health to expand access to the monkeypox vaccine," the department wrote in a statement to New Times. "One of MDCR's top priorities is to protect the health and well-being of staff, medical personnel, and all inmates in our custody. We will continue to assess our operational practices as monkeypox evolves to ensure safety throughout our facilities."

MDCR operates the eighth-largest jail system in the nation, with four detention facilities that house more than 100,00 people annually. As of August 28, the inmate population was 4,645.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 18,101 people have been infected with the monkeypox virus in the U.S. since the outbreak began in mid-May. Of those infections, 1,870 were in Florida.

From May 17 to August 15, Florida's Department of Health confirmed 513 monkeypox cases in Miami-Dade County. The county recently opened two monkeypox vaccine sites to offer shots to "eligible, high-risk residents," including close contacts of monkeypox cases and immunocompromised men with HIV who have had sex with other men. It remains unknown if or when the vaccine will become available to the state or county's incarcerated population.

The county has noted that demand for monkeypox vaccines is outpacing supply.

County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in an August 9 statement that she is leveraging existing pandemic resources to distribute monkeypox vaccines as quickly as possible and educate the public about the virus.

"The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that we must act as a community to protect ourselves and each other, and we are taking advantage of the lessons learned and the robust infrastructure we still have in place to offer services to those in need of protection against this virus," Levine Cava said.

Monkeypox, which has been described as a less-severe version of smallpox, was primarily found in parts of Central and West Africa before recently spreading around the globe and infecting tens of thousands of people. The monkeypox rash begins with small red bumps, which grow into pus-filled blisters that crust over and heal within a few weeks.

The disease has a low fatality rate, and no deaths have been reported from it in the United States since the outbreak began. The virus is known to mainly spread through physical contact and contaminated items like clothing and bedding. The CDC is researching how often transmission occurs through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing.
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca