October 3, 2022

  • On Thursday, the White House is expected to declare monkeypox a public health emergency.
  • The announcement comes 12 days after the WHO declared the monkeypox outbreak a global emergency.
  • Vaccine supply is limited and more than 6,600 cases have been confirmed.

On Thursday, the federal government is expected to declare the national outbreak of monkeypox — which has spread almost entirely among men who have sex with men — a public health emergency.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra is expected to outline what such a statement would entail in a briefing this afternoon, according to a report by Dan Diamond on Washington Post.

As Post, and then The New York Timesreported, by designating monkeypox a public health emergency, the White House would be able to use emergency resources to fast-track testing, treatments and vaccine shipments.

Since the first case of monkeypox was diagnosed this year in mid-May, more than 6,610 cases have been confirmed. Many public health professionals believe this number is likely much higher.

The expected announcement from the Biden administration comes 12 days after the WHO declared monkeypox a global emergency. Despite the disagreement among the participants, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus refused, saying the rapid spread of the virus required all member states to “act together in solidarity”.

A public health emergency declaration makes more funds available and allows the CDC to access more data

The Secretary of HHS has the discretion to declare public health emergency in the event of a major disaster, outbreak of infectious disease or attack.

Doing so allows government and health services to reduce bureaucratic red tape that can slow down access to treatment and testing. For example, a public health emergency declaration allows measures that include:

  • The FDA approves tests and treatments at a faster clip than usual, subjecting them to an expedited review process.
  • Access to “no-year” funds — that is, money earmarked only for emergencies — to fund research and contact tracing and coordination between federal, state and local health agencies.
  • The CDC should request more data from local health networks to get a better sense of how the disease is spreading.

Symptoms of monkeypox

Doctors at major medical centers in Miami and San Francisco say many more cases go unreported because providers don’t know how to recognize signs of infection and because some clinicians may be reluctant to ask patients about their sexual history.

The outbreak has caught experts by surprise because people show a wide range of symptoms.

Some patients have smallpox in their genital area that is so painful that it makes it difficult to go to the bathroom, while others may have almost no signs of infection, except perhaps a single pimple. Other common symptoms include fever and swollen lymph nodes in the groin.

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