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There’s enough to the growing monkeypox outbreak to give anyone a feeling of public health deja vu:
- A viral outbreak spreading across the world.
- Frustrated questions aimed at the White House and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about access to tests and vaccines.
But while Covid-19 has killed millions worldwide, monkeypox generally clears up after a few weeks. These are very different diseases.
Add in the fact that monkeypox is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact and so far has affected many gay men and other men who have sex with men, raising concerns about a stigma that is affecting the response.
Serious questions about public health
It’s certainly true the lack of testing access and slow supply of vaccines have raised questions about what the government and public health officials learned from Covid-19 about how to prepare for the next public health emergency.
Note: CNN’s most comprehensive report on Thursday comes from Virginia Langmaid and Deidre McPhillips, and I’ve taken much of what’s below from there.
What is the scale of this outbreak?
Monkeypox traditionally appears in 11 countries in tropical Africa. The new, alarming development is that it has spread worldwide this year in an unprecedented way.
There have been previous documented cases in the US, including two in 2021, but nothing on the scale of this current outbreak, which has exceeded 1,000 documented US cases, according to the CDC.
The most documented cases have occurred in Europe: in Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The CDC’s map of documented cases in the US shows it has spread across the country to all but a handful of states.
The most-affected states include California, New York and Illinois, as well as Washington, DC.
What’s the worst-case scenario?
The fear is monkeypox could spread to the wider population in the US, and the worldwide outbreak could make the virus a permanent fixture.
Monkeypox can be dangerous and even deadly in certain people, such as those with weakened immune systems.
What are the symptoms?
It can take up to two weeks for symptoms to form. They often begin with fever, chills and swollen lymph nodes. Extremely painful red poxes filled with liquid can then form, often on the genitals but could be all over the body.
And see one man’s warning: You do not want to get this disease.
The true spread is probably much wider
The true scope of the outbreak in the US is likely unknown. Read this NPR account about how difficult it was for one man who suspected he had monkeypox to get tested in New York last month.
Why has it been so hard to get a test?
Even someone who really wants to get a test often has to commit time and energy to receive one.
Langmaid and McPhillips report how two different men went repeatedly for testing. Here’s an excerpt from their story:
Christian Redondo, a graduate student in Atlanta, noticed a sore and called his local board of health, which said it wasn’t doing testing and referred him to his primary care doctor.
His primary care doctor told him to go to the emergency room to get tested, but Redondo was able to contact a friend at his county health department who said yes, in fact, he would need to go there for a test.
“Then, I was in the waiting room for, I don’t know, something like four or five hours. It was a very long time. And when I was asking them about it, they said they had to wait for permission from the CDC to even test me for monkeypox,” he said.