Weeks after the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency, the White House has declared the outbreak a public health emergency in the United States.
The declaration grants funding and allows for more resources to be employed, as well as the ability for the Health and Human Services Secretary to enter contracts for treatments, medical supplies, and equipment. Public health emergencies last for 90 days but can be extended.
“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” US health secretary Xavier Becerra said at a briefing on Thursday.
As of August 4, the virus has infected 26,864 people so far this year. Only 345 of those are in the seven countries that have historically reported monkeypox. The cases in the US are now over 7,100. The disease spreads mostly through skin-to-skin contact, although other mechanisms such as droplets could also contribute. This mode of transmission makes sex or other intimate contacts a particularly effective way for the disease to spread.
The good news is that effective treatments and vaccines exist for monkeypox. They are the same ones that allowed humanity to successfully eradicated smallpox from the planet. The bad news is that the rollout to the most at-risk communities – men who have sex with men and health care workers – has, unfortunately, been slow and full of missteps, leaving too many people uncertain about the disease and what to do. The burden to inform, reassure, and vaccinate has fallen to sexual health clinics – already underfunded – and grassroots organizations.
Despite this, thanks to community organizing, thousands have received vaccinations over the last several weeks, leading to a downward trend in the number of cases. For many, the main symptom will be a rash, and only around 50 percent will get a fever. There is, however, a small risk of more serious complications and even death. Since January 1 there have been deaths recorded in the Central African Republic (2), Ghana (1), Nigeria (5), Spain (2), India (1), and Brazil (1).
To help combat the global health emergency, many publishers of scientific research, such as the journal Nature, are making all monkeypox studies freely available, much like in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.