US declares national public health emergency over monkeypox outbreak

'We urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,' Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra says

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The US on Thursday declared a national public health emergency in response to the growing monkeypox outbreak, which is currently the largest in the world.

“We're prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said.

More than 6,600 presumed monkeypox cases have been reported by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

President Joe Biden's administration has faced criticism for its slow response to the outbreak, with only limited testing supplies and vaccines available as cases continue to rise.

The White House set up a monkeypox response team this week but three US states and several cities declared health emergencies before the federal declaration announced on Thursday.

The declaration will allow for greater funding to support public education on prevention, more accessible testing or treatment, and quicker deployment of vaccines.

Mr Becerra said the US has committed 1.1 million vaccine doses to be distributed nationally and 600,000 have been sent out already.

High demand for vaccines has forced local health departments to prioritise first doses for the two-dose regimen of the JYNNEOS vaccine, as health officials have said it is possible to delay the second dose.

Officials said an expected October shipment of 150,000 doses was expedited for September delivery, and other doses will arrive in the following months.

"We will leave no stone unturned in our effort to combat this virus," White House monkeypox response co-ordinator Robert Fenton said.

"This virus is moving fast."

The US estimates there are 1.6 to 1.7 million people who are at highest risk of developing monkeypox.

Monkeypox: everything you need to know

Monkeypox: everything you need to know

Monkeypox is spread through close physical contact, including sex, as well as through interacting with clothes or other items used by people who are infected.

The current outbreak is mainly affecting gay men, but cases have been reported in children and pregnant women.

Symptoms include body rashes and lesions, and patients must isolate for three to four weeks.

There are no known deaths from the virus in the US outbreak, but other non-endemic countries have reported fatalities.

The World Health Organisation declared a global emergency over the spread of the virus in non-endemic countries in July.

"We continue to marshal forward the tools we need to contain monkeypox and keep it from spreading to become endemic," Mr Becerra said.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 12:16 PM