While the world was still recovering from the effects of coronavirus, monkeypox caused another health scare, especially in the United States. The first case was documented in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 17, 2022. And just over 8 months after the first reported monkeypox case, the US public health emergency declared that this outbreak is towards the end of its phase.
The once-out-of-control outbreak is now slowly dying out…
Even though the virus is still around, the number of new cases reported each day to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been in the single digits for more than a month now. And yes, this is a big drop from when there were about 450 new cases each day in August.
Even so, the United States saw the most instances of any country in the world from 2022 until this year. There have been almost 30,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States, with 23 fatalities.
According to the most recent WHO statistics, the number of cases has decreased in much of Europe, the Western Pacific, and Asia. However, it’s still a major health problem in some South American countries.
This disease had only been occasionally reported outside Africa. And when it became an outbreak in the United States, the experts said that it has taught the world about the disease.
However, despite this newfound knowledge, many questions still remain – the virus’s origin and why it suddenly spread from Central and West Africa to more than a hundred other countries.
The first verified cases of monkeypox in the UK were reported by health officials around the beginning of May 2022. One of them had just returned from a trip to Nigeria, but the others had never left the country before. This only meant that the disease was spreading too fast as expected. Also, some countries reported the onset of their outbreaks in April, and others reported to have such cases even earlier.
And according to health experts, monkeypox had been silently spreading before they even caught up to it.
The public health response to the rising US case numbers in early summer is similar to the early days of COVID-19. Most doctors didn’t know how to recognize or test for monkeypox because it had rarely appeared outside Africa. The government asked for a new vaccine, but most of the doses were already in other countries. Another unproven drug, Tpoxx, was used for compassionate use by the government.
A public health emergency was declared in August. Finally, federal agencies could access emergency funds for the response cost and further studies of the disease. The government set up a task team that is led by Robert Fenton, an expert in logistics at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the head of the CDC’s Division of HIV and AIDS Research.
Half of the men who responded to an August online poll about men’s sexual habits reported that they have been cutting back on both the number of partners and one-time sexual encounters. And it is believed that both factors have been linked to the 20%-30% drop in the spread of new infections.
Some experts worry that the US might see monkeypox cases flare up again as the weather changes. Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health explained, “The party season was during the summer, during the height of the outbreak, and we’re in the dead of winter. So there’s a possibility that behavior change may not able to be sustained.”
The drop in cases that we’re seeing right now brings the United States in a much better position than how situations have been last summer. However, Gonsalves says that public health officials should not be too relaxed about this yet and make this a “mission accomplished” moment. He said, “Now, put your foot on the accelerator. Let’s get the rest of these cases.”
Dr. Jonathan Mermin, the director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, says that this is exactly what the CDC intends to do. He said, “So much of our work in the next few months will be setting up structures so that getting vaccinated is easy.”
About 40% of people with HIV who got monkeypox in the United States also had HIV. This is why the CDC wants HIV and STI clinics that offer pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV as part of their standard care to have Jynneos vaccines ready for anyone to get. And officials are going to continue to go to LGBTQ festivals and events to offer on-site vaccinations. They will also continue to assess individuals who have been vaccinated and later infected to determine whether or not they maintain immunity.
Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA says, “We’re starting to see some data that suggests that asymptomatic infection and transmission is possible, and that certainly will change how we think about this virus and risk.”
After first testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea in May 2022, researchers at a sexual health clinic in Belgium discovered undiagnosed cases of monkeypox after they rescreened more than 200 nasal and oral swabs. There were no symptoms reported by three of the participants, and one of them had a severe rash that was initially thought to be herpes. The results of their investigation were reported in Nature Medicine.
In a communication to CNN through email, study author Christophe Van Dijck of the Laboratory of Medical Microbiology at the University of Antwerp in Belgium said, “Mild and asymptomatic infections may have indeed delayed the detection of the outbreak.”
While experts work on such issues, advocacy organizations insist they can’t yet kick back and relax despite the decreasing number of cases. In fact, even researchers believe that those who are at high risk of contracting the virus will still continue practicing extra caution even though the emergency status of monkeypox has already expired.
After the coronavirus and then the monkeypox outbreak followed, people these days are more vigilant when it comes to their health. And that is surely going to continue on for a long time.