WHO declares monkeypox a public health emergency as HHS considers designation

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Photo: Naohiko Hatta/Pool/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the declaration on Saturday, a day after United States health officials said the Department of Health and Human Services was considering its own public health emergency for monkeypox.

It’s an ongoing conversation, said Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director, Division of Pathogens and High Consequence Pathology for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials are looking at ways the response to the virus can be improved as a result of the PHE statement, she said at a press briefing on Friday afternoon.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The number of cases of monkeypox continues to rise globally and nationally.

The United States announced two pediatric cases last week, according to McQuiston. In one case, the baby was from another state but was tested in that country while the family was in transit through D.C., she said.

The vast majority of monkeypox cases, 99 percent, are spread through male-to-male sexual contact, she said. Although monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, it is spread through close contact. There are eight individuals who identified themselves as women, according to McQuiston.

She said it was not surprising to see cases outside the gay male population, as cases were reported among women and young children in Europe.

The WHO said the monkeypox outbreak now has more than 16,000 reported cases from 75 countries and territories, including five deaths.

As of July 21, the CDC has reported 2,593 cases.

The CDC identifies monkeypox as a rare but potentially serious viral illness that usually begins with a flu-like illness and swollen lymph nodes and progresses to a widespread rash on the face and body. Symptoms are more flu-like than coronavirus, the CDC said. Most people recover on their own within a few weeks and treatment is available at your local doctor’s office.

The treatment is the antiviral drug Tpoxx (tecovirimat), which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2018 to treat smallpox, a close relative of monkeypox.

Getting Tpoxx to patients has been hampered by the paperwork burden, according to McQuiston.

“We revised the protocol to reduce the reporting burden,” she said.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said Friday that the response to monkeypox mirrors that of COVID-19: a comprehensive strategy of testing, treatment, vaccines and outreach to the communities most at risk from being infected with the virus.

Earlier this month, the federal government ordered an additional 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS vaccine to respond to the current monkeypox outbreak.

HHS released an additional 300,000 doses of the vaccine in jurisdictions with the highest concentrations of the virus, such as New York. More doses are expected, according to Dr. Robert Johnson, director of the Influenza and Emerging Infectious Diseases Division at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

THE BIGGER TREND

On July 15, HHS renewed the public health emergency for COVID-19 for another 90 days.

After the WHO declared monkeypox a public health emergency, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said, ‚ÄúSince the first case of monkeypox in the United States was confirmed on May 18, the Biden-Harris administration has acted quickly to provide vaccines, tests and treatments for people in need. We are determined to accelerate our response in the coming days.”

Becerra also elevated the existing Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) from a staff division to an operations division, adopting the new name Administration for Strategic Readiness and Response (ASPR).

The move elevates ASPR to a stand-alone agency within the department to allow ASPR to mobilize a coordinated national response more effectively and efficiently during future disasters and emergencies in close cooperation with other agencies, HHS said.

ASPR’s reclassification as an operational unit is in recognition of the growing size and scope of ASPR’s mission over the years, particularly in light of the multi-year response to COVID-19.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
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