The United States declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday, a move that is expected to free up new funding, aid data collection and enable the deployment of additional personnel to combat the disease.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a call, “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus,”
The declaration, which was initially in place for 90 days but could be renewed, came Thursday after 6,600 cases were reported across the country, about a quarter of them in New York state.
Experts believe the actual number of current outbreaks may be much higher, as symptoms can be subtle with a single lesions.
The United States has so far distributed some 600,000 JYNNEOS vaccines, originally developed against smallpox, a virus related to monkeypox, but this number figure is still far short of the approximately 1.6 million people considered at highest risk and who need the vaccine most.
The Department of Health and Human Services said last week that about 99% of cases in the US still involve men who have sex, and that population officials are targeting a national vaccination strategy.
Unlike previous outbreaks in Africa, the virus is now spread primarily through sexual activity, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says other routes are also possible, including sharing bedding, clothing, and prolonged face-to-face contact.
The US declaration comes after the World Health Organization last month designated the outbreak an emergency, something reserved for diseases of greatest concern.