Less than a month after the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, the United States is reporting 13,516 cases of the viral disease — a third of the world’s cases and more than twice as many cases as in Spain, the country with the next-highest number of infections.
More than half of domestic cases are located in five states — New York, California, Florida, Texas and Georgia — but other states are seeing their caseloads increase, too.
“It’s important that we all take monkeypox seriously,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said on a call with reporters on Thursday. “We know that viruses don’t care about state lines. They don’t wait to spread.”
Ninety-eight percent of monkeypox cases in the U.S. are in men, “with 93% of cases were among men who reported recent sexual contact with other men,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on the call.
“At this time, data suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up the majority of cases in the current monkeypox outbreak,” according to the CDC website. “However, anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, who has been in close, personal contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.”
In an effort to reach at-risk communities where they are, HHS is launching a new pilot program for on-site vaccinations at large-scale events like festivals and concerts that attract LGBTQ communities.
The program will make 50,000 vaccine allocations available to state and local health departments whose jurisdictions are hosting events that draw the MSM (men who have sex with men) community. “Jurisdictions hosting these events can request to receive additional vaccine allocations based on the size and nature of the event,” Dr. Walensky said.
Dr. Walensky warned that the vaccine is not a silver bullet during the events themselves because it does not offer immediate protection from the disease. “Protection is highest two weeks after your second dose of the vaccine,” she said.
Still a rare and rarely fatal disease, monkeypox typically presents initially as flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, muscle aches) before patients develop a painful rash, lesions and swollen lymph nodes. The incubation period between exposure and when symptoms first appear is usually seven to 14 days but can be anywhere from five to 21 days, according to the CDC.
More than 10 weeks ago, on June 6, the CDC raised its monkeypox travel alert to a Level 2, which means “practice enhanced precautions.” There’s no sign that the agency will move to Level 3, which comes with a recommendation to “avoid non-essential travel.”
The agency recommends that travelers take preventative steps (avoiding close contact with infected people, washing hands often) and vaccination for anyone exposed to monkeypox or are at higher risk of being exposed to monkeypox.