Monkeypox very serious, but no reason for widespread alarm, White House doctor says

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The U.S. has declared a public health emergency after weeks of pressure to do more to stop the monkeypox outbreak. The U.S. leads the world in infections, and demand for the monkeypox vaccine is overwhelming the supply, with cases roughly doubling by the week in some states.

White House COVID response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, who is assisting on the monkeypox virus response, told “CBS Mornings” that declaring a public health emergency will help speed up vaccinations, treatment and the acquisition of data to track the outbreak.

“Thankfully, no one has died, so we are still at a point in this outbreak where I do believe that, while it is very serious, it is not something that is reason for widespread alarm,” Dr. Jha said.

U.S. cases have surpassed 7,100, with six states reporting more than 500 confirmed cases.

“The goal of this is still to eliminate this virus — to get it under control and ultimately eliminate it. In terms of vaccines, we have substantially ramped up vaccine acquisition from abroad,” Dr. Jha said. “There’s one small company in Denmark that makes these vaccines. We have gotten more vaccines than the rest of the world combined. And we’re primarily targeting those vaccines to the community where this virus is spreading.”

The vast majority of cases so far have been found among men who have sex with men, but health officials stress anybody can get it. At least five children and a pregnant woman have contracted the virus.

Monkeypox is primarily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or exposure to contaminated clothing or bedding, but it can also spread through prolonged close exposure to respiratory droplets. 

Dr. Jha emphasized that most cases are spread through skin-to-skin contact.

“There is a theoretical risk and then there is the reality,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of the cases so far have been among gay and bisexual men. It is largely spreading through prolonged skin-to-skin contact.”

While it is rarely fatal, patients say monkeypox is excruciating.

San Francisco was the first major city to declare a public health emergency, and this week, lines formed around the block outside Zuckerberg General Hospital for the vaccine. And in Washington state, some residents are even driving to Canada for shots.

Dr. Jha said those seeking the vaccine should look up their local health department.

“Almost every state has a website on monkeypox, you can go to that, it will tell you where vaccines are available,” he said.

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