The California Board of Health voted unanimously today to declare the Monkeypox outbreak in San Francisco and Oakland an emergency, following on the heels of Illinois and New York’s similar decisions. The disease first emerged in 2015 in West Africa, where it sickened thousands, but had previously been rare in the US—until now. Here’s what you need to know about Monkeypox and whether you need to worry about getting sick yourself.
The California governor declared a state of emergency over the rapidly spreading monkeypox outbreak on Monday, the third state to do so in a matter of days.
As infection rates rise, demand for vaccines has outpaced supply, leading to Newsom’s declaration of an emergency. There has been a noticeable influx of people coming to clinics and other sites looking for vaccinations, so staff has had a hard time meeting the demand.
Emergency Medical Services personnel in California will assist with administering the vaccines. Newsom claimed that the state is working across different levels of government to slow the spread through testing, tracing contacts, and community outreach.
First, Illinois declares a public health emergency and now New York declares a state disaster emergency due to the effects of the outbreak.
In the United States, 48 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico have reported monkeypox cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak of disease spread quickly, which was exacerbated by confirmation of the first U.S. case of it happening in Boston back in May.
The three biggest cities in the country – California, Illinois, and New York – reported 47% of all confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S. New York is where the outbreak is happening, and where nearly 1,400 confirmed cases have been reported as of Monday.
It is usually very mild and hasn’t been deadly in the U.S so far, but the rash the virus produces can be intensely painful. Concerned scientists and public health officials fear that, if the outbreak isn’t contained, this virus may circulate permanently in the U.S.
Last month, the WHO declared monkeypox a global health emergency. More than 19,000 monkeypox cases have been reported in at least 78 countries, according to WHO data. It is an unusual outbreak because it is sweeping across North America and Europe. Back then, monkeypox spread to low levels in Western and Central Africa, mainly from rodents and other animals.
According to public health officials, monkeypox is predominantly transmitted through skin-to-skin contact during sex. Gay and bisexual men are at the highest risk of infection at the moment. About 98% of patients who reported their demographic information to clinics reported that they are men who have sex with men, according to the CDC.
According to health officials, monkeypox can only be transmitted by direct contact with those who have the rash characteristic of it or by using contaminated materials like towels and bedsheets. Last month, the CDC confirmed two cases of the virus in children who likely contracted it from someone in their immediate family.
Transmission can also occur by contact via respiratory droplets in an infected person who has lesions in their mouth. Health officials say the primary mode of transmission is by physical contact.
United States considering public health emergency
Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are considering whether to declare a health emergency. This will allow the state health officials to get the resources they need to better respond to the current outbreak. The last time the United States made an emergency declaration like this was for Covid-19 in January 2020.
Congress members and local communities have criticized the federal government’s response, but Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said last week the Biden administration has done everything it can to combat the outbreak. Therefore, state-level efforts to halt transmission, and Congressional allocations to assist with the response to the outbreak, are necessary.
The HHS has delivered more than 330,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine to state health departments since May. HHS made another 786,000 doses available to states and other jurisdictions on Friday. However, some clinics are still unable to provide enough shots to meet the demand.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Jynneos, a two-dose vaccine for people at high risk of monkeypox or smallpox exposure, in 2019. Bavarian Nordic, a Danish biotech company, makes the only monkeypox vaccine that has been approved by the FDA for the United States.
The U.S. now has the capacity to conduct 80,000 tests a week because it recently hired a commercial lab that started testing last month, according to the CDC. In fact, the number of confirmed infections in the U.S. is probably underestimated since people are not tested until they have a rash, which can take months in some cases. Clinicians gather a specimen by swabbing the rash.
In addition, the U.S. stockpiled 1.7 million courses of the antiviral treatment tecovirimat. Physicians can administer tecovirimat to cure monkeypox, but that entails some extra bureaucracy because the drug is only licensed for smallpox. The CDC is trying to help physicians prescribe tecovirimat, because in order to prescribe the drug physicians had to undergo hours of bureaucratic red tape.
Monkeypox is in the same virus family as smallpox, but it causes less severe symptoms.