As the number of monkeypox cases in Georgia continues a slow rise, Fulton County health officials announced an upcoming vaccination event on Twitter aimed at those at highest risk. Within hours all the appointments were taken.
About 200 doses of monkeypox vaccine will be given by appointment only at the Atlanta event planned Saturday by the Fulton County Board of Health. The doses are limited to men who have sex with men and who have had two or more sexual partners in the past 14 days, according to the Fulton County Board of Health.
U.S. health officials have expressed concern the virus, which arose in May in Europe and the U.S., is spreading faster than previously thought. In Georgia, the number of confirmed cases rose to 19 as of Thursday afternoon — all men who live in metro Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Public Health told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
As of Thursday, the U.S. had identified 605 cases in 34 states and the District of Columbia. California, Florida and New York have the most cases.
Georgia’s first-ever case was announced in early June. While several of the cases here are associated with either international travel or traveling to a recent conference in Chicago, more recent cases were not associated with travel, according to DPH.
Endemic in parts of Africa, the virus doesn’t usually spread easily among people, concerning global health officials. The World Health Organization said it counted 6,027 laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox from 59 countries as of Monday, an increase of 2,614 cases since its last count for the week that ended June 27. It said three people have now died in connection with the outbreak, all of them in Africa.
While most cases so far are among men who have sex with men, health officials emphasize that anyone can contract the virus through close personal contact.
Georgia is receiving a total of about 1,200 doses of the monkeypox vaccine as part of a nationwide response to quell the outbreak. Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said the remaining doses will be given to people testing positive for monkeypox and for lab workers at high risk of infection. The monkeypox vaccine can help prevent illness, and also reduce the severity of the disease for those already infected.
With extremely limited supply, doctors need to request the vaccine on a case-by-case basis for their patients through the state health department. In addition to the Saturday vaccination event, the vaccines can be administered in a doctor’s office or at a local public health department. More vaccine doses are likely to continue to arrive.
Public health officials said there have been no U.S. deaths and officials say the risk to the American public is low, but they are working to expand testing and taking other steps to staunch the spread of monkeypox, which causes flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills, and a rash that can take weeks to clear.
“We’re not going to have a monkeypox massive pandemic that we have with COVID obviously because transmission potential of the (monkeypox) virus is much, much lower,” Dr. Felipe Lobelo, an epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia recently told The AJC. “Having said that, it is concerning that we have not been able to tamp down the outbreak and it is very likely we will continue to see increases in the number of cases over the next few months.”
Those who have the virus have been asked to isolate until the rash has fully resolved, and public health staff are reaching out to their potential contacts for testing.
U.S. health officials recently announced it was expanding the pool of people who are advised to get vaccinated to anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, and to include those who may realize on their own that they could have been infected.
That can include men who have sex with men who have recently had multiple sex partners in a venue where there was known to be monkeypox or in an area where monkeypox is spreading.
After deploying only about 9,000 doses of vaccine, U.S. officials recently said they are increasing the amount of Jynneos vaccine they are making available, allocating 56,000 doses immediately and about 240,000 more over the coming weeks. They promised more than 1 million more over the coming months.
Jynneos, a newer vaccine, has never been used on this scale, and federal health officials said they would watch for unexpected side effects.
— Monkeypox is a viral disease that is rarely fatal. It is similar to smallpox but less contagious and less severe.
— Monkeypox can be spread during intimate contact between people, including through sex, kissing, or touching parts of the body with monkeypox sores. It can also be spread via shared objects such as towels and bedding.
— Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, back pain, muscle aches and low energy. The virus can go on to cause rash and lesions.
— The virus enters the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com