As case counts continued to increase across multiple countries, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency over the weekend.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are nearly 17,000 confirmed monkeypox cases in 74 countries, the majority of which come from countries that have not historically reported cases. In the U.S., there are nearly 2,900 confirmed cases.
Monkeypox is a virus that is transmitted through direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids or lesions of infected people. The incubation period typically ranges from one to two weeks but can last up to three weeks.
A recent New England Journal of Medicine study found that, in 95% of analyzed infections, transmission was suspected to have occurred through sexual activity. The study also indicated that 98% of people with infections were gay or bisexual men.
The Human Rights Campaign commended WHO for its declaration, asserting that the move will make available more resources – such as tests and vaccines — for vulnerable populations, including the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We are especially concerned that BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people who face greater challenges in accessing healthcare will bear the brunt of MPV,” said Jay Brown, Human Rights Campaign SVP of programs, research and training, in a statement. “The LGBTQ+ community will continue to do what we have done for decades – care for one another, be compassionate and empathetic, and advocate for our community’s well-being.”
Following the WHO declaration, attention has shifted to the U.S. response to monkeypox. The federal response to the growing outbreak comes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the first reported case of polio in nearly a decade. Additionally, two children were diagnosed with monkeypox last week, though details about how they were infected was not disclosed.
At the end of June, the CDC established an emergency operations center for monkeypox and offered recommendations to Americans traveling abroad. Still, the agency has not issued a formal press release in light of the WHO announcement.
Ahead of the WHO’s declaration, the Biden administration was mulling the announcement of a public health emergency to boost domestic response to the virus.
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said there are active discussions at the Department of Health and Human Services about such a declaration, but added that no decision has been made yet. Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, expressed concern last week about the country’s response to the virus.
The Biden administration has taken steps to curb the spread of monkeypox through available resources. In early July, the White House announced that more than 140,000 Jynneos vaccines for monkeypox produced by Bavarian Nordic were available for distribution. Several major cities across the country have offered monkeypox vaccines to at-risk patient populations, though the rollout has been complicated at points.
In light of the WHO announcement, Bavarian Nordic is reportedly considering a 24-hour emergency production schedule for Jynneos to scale up and meet the rising demand, according to Bloomberg.
While monkeypox is endemic in certain African regions that have historically reported most cases of the virus, there is a chance that it could also occur in the U.S., according to former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb.