The Monkeypox outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to spread, even as the nation has entered its rainy season, making it harder to contain the disease. The CDC reports that more than 450 cases have been reported in rural parts of eastern Congo, and two dozen of those infected have died. According to CDC, Monkeypox can be deadly but is typically treatable with common antibiotics. Experts believe that the outbreak began in February when hunters came into contact with infected animals. No vaccine exists for the disease.
In response to the growing monkeypox outbreak, the Biden administration might declare a public health emergency, a senior White House official said on Friday.
As part of the U.S. response to the outbreak, Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid response coordinator, said the administration is considering a public health emergency declaration.
“I’m unaware of a final decision on this,” Jha said. “It’s an ongoing conversation in HHS.”
As per Public Health Services Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services can declare a public health emergency. When a disease outbreak occurs, a declaration can mobilize federal financial assistance.
Over 2,500 cases of monkeypox have been reported in the U.S. so far, including cases in 44 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York, California, Illinois, Florida, D.C., and Georgia are the most affected.
As infections rise, Congress has begun to scrutinize the Biden administration’s response to the outbreak. In a letter to President Biden this week, fifty House Democrats asked him to declare a public health emergency in response to the outbreak.
Senator Patty Murray said she is concerned about the U.S. response to the outbreak in a letter to HHS Secretary Becerra. Murray noted that some patients and health-care providers lack the information and resources needed to test for monkeypox.
According to Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, the vaccines are in high demand. Long lines outside clinics make vaccination difficult for many people.
So far, more than 300,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine, known as Jynneos, have been distributed to city and state health departments, Jha told reporters Friday. FDA is approving 786,000 additional doses stored at Bavarian Nordic’s facility in Denmark for distribution in the U.S.
Several of those shots are being shipped and will arrive in the U.S. by this week and next week. Once the FDA approves the doses, city and state health departments will be able to receive them. According to HHS, the United States has also ordered another 5 million doses that will be delivered until the middle of 2023.
Monkeypox usually spreads by skin-to-skin contact during sex. As of right now, men who have sex with men are at the highest risk of infection, but anyone can contract the virus through close physical contact. Most people recover in two to four weeks, but the virus causes painful lesions. In the U.S., no deaths have been reported.
Children have been confirmed to have monkeypox for the first time by the CDC on Friday. It’s a toddler in California, and it’s an infant who doesn’t live in the United States. It is likely that the children caught the virus from someone in their household, as the cases are not related.
The children are both in good health and are being treated with tecovirimat, an antiviral drug. CDC official Jennifer McQuiston said Friday the agency is working to make it easier for clinicians to prescribe tecovirimat to patients.
Right now, tecovirimat is only FDA approved for smallpox, so prescribing it for monkeypox entails an additional layer of bureaucracy. Monkeypox is in the same virus family as smallpox, but it causes milder symptoms.
McCQuiston reported that more than 97% of patients with monkeypox who provided demographic information were gay, bisexual or had sex with men.
While this outbreak is confined to this social network for now, I believe there will be future cases of it spreading beyond the networks and that we need to be on guard and prepare ourselves in order to address and mitigate its impact, McQuiston told reporters.
The CDC says the United States is now capable of conducting 80,000 monkeypox tests a week after adding several commercial labs this month. A test swabs the lesions that are caused by a virus, which can take weeks to appear from the initial exposure. As a result, the U.S. does not have an accurate picture of how many people are infected because patients cannot be tested until they show symptoms.