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Declaring Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency

Kayton Sanchez| August 16, 2022


Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra declared monkeypox a public health emergency in the United States on August 4th, 2022. In a recent monkeypox news briefing, Becerra stated,  “we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.” Just late July, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency over the outbreak. The virus now represents a significant risk to Americans and new measures are set in motion to contain the threat.

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by monkeypox virus infection. The virus belongs to the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus causing smallpox. Monkeypox is transmitted through close contact with infectious rashes, scabs, or bodily fluids of someone infected with the disease. It can also be spread by respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact. Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and respiratory symptoms (e.g. sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough). The most notable symptom is a rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body including the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus. The rash typically goes through different stages before healing completely, lasting 2-4 weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  has been tracking the monkeypox outbreak as it spreads across several countries that don’t typically report monkeypox, including the United States. Recently, the CDC has reported that the United States has passed 10,000 cases of monkeypox along with 900 cases in Canada and 100 in Mexico. These North American countries represent nearly one third of all reported cases worldwide, totalling 31,800 spanning 89 countries. 

Similar to the early COVID-19 response, tests have been difficult to obtain and accurate count of cases are spotty. The U.S. administration has been accused of not educating the public, especially for those at high risk. 

Xavier Becerra’s announcement gives federal agencies the power to quickly direct funds toward developing and evaluating vaccines and gain access to emergency funding. Dr. Robert Califf and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explore new strategies for vaccines in affected communities across the country including using a new dose-sparing approach that could increase the number of doses available. There have been new opportunities to promote vaccine administration data use agreements between jurisdictions and the CDC. They are also authorizing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to collect testing and hospitalization data in order to effectively track and attack the outbreak. 

Along with the administration’s strategy and response, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a “coordinated call to action with science and technology leaders and advisors,” leading to scholarly publishers to release monkeypox-related research and data.



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