After mpox cases subsided following a summer outbreak in 2022, a new cluster of cases in Chicago has public health officials on alert. With festivals and other events planned for the spring and summer, experts caution that these gatherings could lead to a resurgence of cases of mpox, formerly known as monkeypox.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in an advisory issued Monday morning that 12 confirmed mpox cases and one probable case were reported to the Chicago Department of Public Health over a span of three weeks, from April 17 to May 5. Of the 13 cases, nine were among men who had received two Jynneos vaccine doses. The CDC noted that while cases have declined, the outbreak is not over.
The announcement came on the heels of a proclamation by the World Health Organization last week that the global outbreak of mpox is no longer an international emergency, citing a dramatic drop in cases in recent months.
Since a global outbreak linked to international travel began in May 2022, a total of 30,395 mpox cases have been reported in the United States as of May 10, 2023. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia has had a total of 1,994 mpox cases, with eight of those cases occurring in 2023. The symptom onset was more than a month ago for the most recent case, according to Nancy Nydam, a spokesperson for DPH.
Due to the decrease in cases and end of the mpox public health emergency, DPH stopped weekly mpox reports after February 8.
Dr. Melanie Thompson, a doctor who cares for people living with HIV and researcher based in Atlanta, says that this should change.
“I think now we need to rally our data collection again because Chicago knows where their cases are and we may be having cases that are scattered around in various places but we may not know as much about them as we need to,” Thompson said. “I think it’s really important that we collect and publish data on a regular basis about cases.”
Because so many in the high-risk populations of Black and Latino men who have sex with men are still unvaccinated, CDC estimates there’s a 35% chance of the U.S. experiencing a new outbreak of mpox. During the peak of the outbreak, August 2022, there were nearly 460 cases reported daily in the United States. If resurgent outbreaks were to occur in these communities, they have the potential to be equal or greater in size of 2022 outbreaks.
The CDC is continuing to push public health agencies to improve vaccine equity and coverage for those at-risk, especially Black and Latino men who have sex with men. Additionally, along with these measures, they are urging agencies to vaccinate more people in order to prevent new cases and future outbreaks.
Nationwide, 1.2 million mpox vaccines, known by the brand name Jynneos, have been administered since the beginning of the outbreak, but less than a quarter of the population most at-risk for mpox have been fully vaccinated. Black men accounted for 77% of Georgia’s mpox cases, but only made up 40% of the state’s second dose recipients, as of February 8.
In Georgia, that statistic holds, with 33% of the at-risk population — men who have sex with men and who have multiple sexual partners or those with HIV — having received one dose and 23% being fully vaccinated.
While the vaccine doesn’t prevent all infections, getting vaccinated is still recommended. While the CDC expects new cases to occur within those who got vaccinated, people who received their two-dose Jynneos vaccine series may have less severe symptoms than others who have not.
DPH says that they have shared the CDC alert with the state’s network of providers and will begin using social media to spread information about mpox vaccinations.
Thompson added that this should not be fear mongering, but education for at-risk communities. “One of the things we learned previously with mpox is that the most effective messengers come from our communities. The most effective vaccination and education events were organized and run by our communities,” she explained.
”It’s really important that our communities stay engaged, that public health stays engaged with communities and that we work together through the summer because it is highly likely that we will see more cases of mpox.”
Mpox vaccine: What to know
Mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) is caused by a virus that is related to the virus that causes smallpox. Jynneos is a 2-dose vaccine developed to protect against mpox and smallpox infections. People need to get both doses of the vaccine for the best protection against mpox. The second dose should be given 4 weeks after the first dose.
Who should get a vaccine?
Anyone with known or suspected exposure to someone with mpox
Anyone with a sex partner in the past 2 weeks who was diagnosed with mpox
Anyone who is gay, bisexual, or other man who has sex with men or a transgender, nonbinary, or gender-diverse person who in the past 6 months has had a recent diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease or more than one sex partner.
The vaccine is also recommended for anyone with HIV or other causes of immune suppression who has had a recent exposure or anticipates future risk of mpox exposure.
How can I get a mpox vaccine?
The mpox vaccine is widely available in Georgia. To find a vaccine, go to https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/mpox/index.html for a vaccine location look-up tool.
Mpox vaccines are free. Providers must give you the vaccine regardless of your ability to pay the administration fee. The providers may bill a program or plan that covers the mpox vaccine administration fee, such as private insurance or Medicare/Medicaid.
(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution