Monkeypox cases in Georgia increase to 48

Health officials are concerned the virus is spreading faster than previously thought.

With the number of monkeypox cases ticking upward in Georgia and around the world, more monkeypox vaccines are expected to arrive in the state soon as part of a nationwide effort to stem the outbreak.

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 48 as of Wednesday morning, up from seven June 29 — all men who live in metro Atlanta.

At a Georgia Board of Public Health meeting Tuesday, health officials said the median age of the men is 33, and 57% of the men are Black, 35% are white (there were no specifics on the remaining 8%).

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.

The Fulton County Board of Health held an event over the weekend to administer 200 doses of the monkeypox vaccines. Appointments for the vaccines quickly filled up within hours.

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.

“It’s not as if this is spreading person to person in ways like COVID or in ways like respiratory viruses. It really requires very close, direct physical contact,” said State epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek at a Georgia Department of Public Health board meeting Tuesday.

Key monkeypox control measures include surveillance, isolation, contact tracing, and vaccination strategies.

“This is our mission. Find the (cases), isolate them, ensure that we can stop the spread moving forward,” said Drenzek. “That’s how we have stopped and eradicated many, many, many other infectious disease outbreaks.”

Endemic in parts of Africa, the virus doesn’t usually spread easily among people, concerning global health officials. As of Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the U.S. has confirmed 929 cases of monkeypox or orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses that include monkeypox. Globally, more than 10,000 cases of monkeypox cases have been reported across 65 countries so far this year.

Georgia is receiving a total of about 1,200 doses of the monkeypox vaccine as part of the first phase of vaccine allocation and is set to receive an additional 4,695 doses, which will be made available this month.

With the extremely limited vaccine supply, doctors need to request the vaccine on a case-by-case basis for their patients through the state health department. The monkeypox vaccine can help prevent illness, and also reduce the severity of the disease for those already infected.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Monkeypox facts

— 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