The Biden administration has declared the current monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency in the US, in addition to the ongoing COVID pandemic that’s still killing more than 300 people every day.
The decision comes about two weeks after the World Health Organization deemed the monkeypox outbreak, which has been recorded in 87 countries, a public health emergency of international concern.
By designating monkeypox a public health emergency, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has more options in terms of money and resources to control the outbreak. The designation, which lasts for 90 days but can be renewed, has been used in the past for COVID, the opioid crisis, hurricanes, and wildfires.
"We're prepared to take our response to the next level," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said during a briefing on Thursday. Officials added that the virus is spreading faster than it did in previous outbreaks. "We urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help tackle this virus."
As of Aug. 3, there are more than 6,600 monkeypox infections in the US across 48 jurisdictions, including Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; and every state — except Montana and Wyoming.
Globally, there have been nine reported deaths in adults as of Aug. 2, including three people in Nigeria, two in the Central African Republic, two in Spain, one in Brazil, and one in India.
Several US cities and states, including New York state, New York City, San Francisco, California, and Illinois — the regions with the most reported monkeypox cases — have already declared the disease to be a public health emergency, a move that allows local leaders to manage resources accordingly and ensure coordination between departments working on the response.
The “vast majority” of those who have tested positive for the monkeypox virus reported having male-to-male sexual contact, HHS officials said during a media briefing on July 28.
On July 27, the WHO suggested that men who have sex with men should consider reducing the number of new sex partners “for the moment,” in an effort to slow monkeypox spread and eventually end the outbreak.
Four children in the US have had confirmed monkeypox infections, as well as a pregnant person who already delivered their baby. Another child was recently diagnosed with "presumptive monkeypox" in California.
As cases increase, so too do complaints about a lack of access to vaccines, testing, and healthcare providers who take the disease seriously.
The HHS on Thursday said 6.9 million doses of the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine have been secured in the US, but officials did not confirm how many Americans have already been vaccinated. And whereas the capacity for testing once stood at 6,000 tests per week, it now stands at about 80,000, the department said.
A monkeypox infection typically begins with flulike symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and chills. Then within one to three days, it can cause rashes and raised lesions that may first show up on the face before spreading to other body parts. It can cause particularly painful lesions on the anus and genitals. Symptoms can last two to four weeks.
Even though transmission between people can occur via prolonged face-to-face contact with large respiratory droplets, the virus spreads most often from direct contact skin-to-skin contact with skin lesions or body fluids, or via contaminated materials such as bedding.