Monkeypox outbreak needs 'hard and fast' response

The World Health Organization over the weekend declared the growing monkeypox outbreak an international public health emergency

Treatment Action Group, a health activism think tank for the LGBTQ community, agrees with the declaration.

"This truly is a global health emergency," Treatment Action Group Executive Director Mark Harrington said. "Two months ago, there were less than 120 cases.  Now, there's over 16,000 cases in an ever-increasing number of countries."

Shortages of vaccines and testing are ongoing problems.

For now, the monkeypox outbreak predominantly affects gay men, but anyone can get the virus.

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Governments and agencies need to coordinate a response to the outbreak, said Dr. Jay Varma, who specializes in pandemic prevention at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"Most of us who work in this field are really concerned about, that if there isn't a coordinated response right now, it can spill over and cause a lot more disease and disability in the future," Varma said. "If you don't address it in one place, it spreads elsewhere."

To date, the Biden administration has not declared monkeypox a public health emergency. 

"The community has been asking the federal government to declare a public health emergency for over a month," Treatment Action Group's Harrington said. "They've been dragging their heels on that."

However, Varma said that a formal U.S. declaration is not critical; instead, officials need to act as if it is an emergency.

"We need to dedicate as many resources as possible—testing, contact tracing, treatment, and vaccines—to that community," Varma said. "No matter whether it's a population or geography, you have to hit hard and fast early."

Monkeypox Symptoms

Monkeypox begins as a rash or sores that can look like pimples or blisters. These bumps can appear all over the body — including your face, hands, feet, mouth, genitals or anus — and can become infected.

The symptoms usually start between a week to two weeks after exposure but may not appear for up to 21 days. The sickness can last from two to four weeks with flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, headache, and body aches and pains—like a weaker version of smallpox. 

"If you have a new or unexpected rash or other symptoms of monkeypox, contact a health care provider," the New York City Health Department states. "A person is contagious until all sores have healed, and a new layer of skin has formed, which can take two to four weeks."

Monkeypox in NYC

As of Monday, July 25, 1,040 people in the city have tested positive for orthopoxvirus (see below) and all likely have monkeypox, according to the city's Health Department. That is up from 55 cases about a month ago.

"Cases in NYC are increasing, and there are likely many more cases that have not been diagnosed," the Health Department said.

What Is Orthopoxvirus?

Public laboratories in New York state test patient samples for orthopoxvirus, the genus, or group, of viruses that cause monkeypox, smallpox, and other diseases. 

"Cases that are confirmed positive for orthopoxvirus are considered probable monkeypox cases because of the rarity of all orthopoxviruses, generally, and the presentation of symptoms, in confirmed orthopoxvirus cases, being consistent with monkeypox," the New York State Health Department states on its website. "Confirmed orthopoxvirus cases, or probable monkeypox cases, may be further confirmed as monkeypox through CDC testing."