A lab technician holds suspected monkeypox samples.Share on Pinterest
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
  • HHS plans to release nearly 300,000 monkeypox vaccine doses to stop the outbreak.
  • The rare disease is similar to smallpox but less severe.
  • The World Health Organization says the outbreak is primarily spreading through sex.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there have been at least 350 identified cases of monkeypox in the country and over 5,000 worldwide.

As a result, federal officials are taking steps to stop the outbreak including releasing vaccines.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced this week they will start releasing the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine as part of a nationwide effort to combat the outbreak. The HHS plans on relating nearly 300,000 doses in the coming weeks.

That vaccine will be used in areas with the highest transmission to help stop the spread of the disease.

“Within days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the United States, we quickly began deploying vaccines and treatment to help protect the American public and limit the spread of the virus,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “While monkeypox poses minimal risk to most Americans, we are doing everything we can to offer vaccines to those at high-risk of contracting the virus. This new strategy allows us to maximize the supply of currently available vaccines and reach those who are most vulnerable to the current outbreak.”

Continuing an “aggressive” public health response to monkeypox, the CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on June 28.

According to the agency, this action helps to gear up the CDC’s command center for monitoring and coordinating their emergency response to monkeypox and mobilization of additional CDC personnel and resources.

“Globally, early data suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of monkeypox cases,” the CDC said in a statement. “CDC continues to provide guidance and raise awareness among frontline healthcare providers and public health.”

Increased testing is an important strategy to control spread of the infection, with orthopoxvirus tests being shipped to five commercial laboratory companies to increase testing capacity and access in all communities.“This development will facilitate increased testing, leverage established relationships between clinics, hospitals and commercial laboratories, and support our ability to better understand the scope of the current monkeypox outbreak,” CDC said in a statement.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), monkeypox is a viral disease originating in animals and is typically found in the tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa.

The organization says it resembles smallpox—a related infection declared eradicated worldwide in 1980. It is also less contagious than smallpox and causes less severe illness.

The WHO says scientists have identified several animals as susceptible to the monkeypox virus, including rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, non-human primates, and other species.

“Early symptoms include fever, chills, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle and body aches, and exhaustion,” Hannah Newman, MPH, director of epidemiology at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Healthline.

According to Newman, the most obvious symptom is painful blisters.

“In 1 to 3 days after fever onset, there is generally the development of a rash or “pox” that consists of painful blisters and lesions that often begin on the face and spread to other parts of the body, especially the face, palms, and soles of the feet,” she explained.

Newman said most monkeypox cases resolve over time.

“But the rash and pustules can last for several weeks,” she said. “Mortality has been estimated to be 1 to 10 percent, depending on the strain. Thankfully, the strain identified in the UK cases has been associated with a lower mortality rate, about one percent.”

“Severe disease and mortality [are] higher among children, young adults, and immunocompromised individuals,” Newman noted.

She added that there have been cases without travel to areas where the disease is established in the current outbreak.

“While sexual orientation, specifically those who identify as gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men, has been shown to be a commonality in this particular outbreak,” she emphasized. “It is important to note that anyone with close contact could contract the virus.”

Newman said there’s no monkeypox-specific treatment, but antiviral drugs and immunoglobulins used against smallpox are effective in this disease. The smallpox vaccine is about 85 percent effective at preventing monkeypox.

“Currently “ring vaccination” strategies are in place to vaccinate close contacts of confirmed cases to try to cut off transmission,” said Newman. “Due to fears of smallpox being used as bioweapons, there is actually a good supply of vaccine available in the US, should it be needed.”

She pointed out that the mode of transmission for this virus is much easier to prevent and control than a virus with aerosolization components like measles or COVID-19.

Newman added that disease prevention strategies in response to COVID-19 could also help against monkeypox.

“Including social distancing, masking, increasing ventilation, and staying home if we are sick,” said Newman. “Hand hygiene is also really key since this is a DNA virus which is better suited to survive on surfaces.”

Dr. Alex Li, deputy chief medical officer, L.A. Care Health Plan, there is no need for panic.

“The CDC is monitoring this situation very closely,” he said.

Li said CDC officials had informed him and his colleagues that they’re currently trying to determine how the infected U.S. patients contracted monkeypox.

“We have also been informed that there is a national stockpile of medications available should there be a greater outbreak,” he said.

Li advises that anyone who has symptoms similar to chickenpox, has had contact with symptomatic people, or has recently traveled to Africa, should contact their healthcare professional.

Federal health officials are going to release nearly 300,000 doses of a monkeypox vaccine in the coming weeks to help stop the outbreak.

Experts say monkeypox is spread by contact with bodily fluids containing the virus rather than through the air like measles or COVID-19.