Monkeypox: U.S. declares public health emergency as the virus spreads in Philadelphia and nationwide

The Biden administration has declared the monkeypox outbreak a national public health emergency, a measure meant to give officials a new set of tools to contain the threat.

Xavier Becerra, the administration’s health and human services secretary, made the announcement on Thursday.

“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,” he said at a press conference.

The declaration will give federal agencies the emergency funds they need to quickly develop vaccines and other drugs, the Washington Post reported. They will also be able to hire new workers to manage the government’s response to the outbreak

Becerra is considering a second declaration which would allow officials to expedite the creation and distribution of therapeutics without full-fledged federal reviews. It would also give them more flexibility when it comes to administering the current supply of vaccines.

Thursday’s declaration came after three states – New York, California and Illinois – declared public health emergencies on Monday. The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency, their most serious designation, on July 23.

The U.S. remains in a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monkeypox vaccines are currently in short supply nationwide and in Philadelphia, where the city has counted 82 cases so far. That information and local vaccine data is available on Philly’s monkeypox portal, which was launched on Monday and will be updated weekly.

There have been 192 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania, 188 in New Jersey and five in Delaware, the CDC reported. Nationwide, there have been 7,102 cases.

The White House said more than 1.1 million doses have been made available nationwide, but only 6,000 have been earmarked for Philadelphia, FOX29 reported. Of those, only about 2,600 have been delivered so far.

“We are advocating to our federal partners for more vaccines for Philadelphia,” said Cheryl Bettigole, Philadelphia’s health commissioner.

People who have already been exposed to the virus are the top priority when it comes to distributing doses in the city.

After that, the doses are available for adult members of the LGBTQ+ community who have had multiple sex partners in the last two weeks or been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection in the last three months.

Although anyone can contract monkeypox, it’s spread particularly fast among men who have sex with other men.

Monkeypox has existed since at least 2003, but the disease has never spread outside of the parts of central and west Africa where it originated on such a large scale before.

“This isn’t acting like monkeypox typically acts,” Bettigole said. “Usually you don’t see big outbreaks like this.”

Symptoms of the virus include a fever, chills, aches and pains, exhaustion and respiratory problems, according to the CDC. The most notable sign of monkeypox is the blister- or pimple-like rash which can last four two to four weeks.

Those who have symptoms should get in touch with a healthcare professional and avoid contact with other people or pets until they can get tested.

People who test positive need to quarantine until their rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of intact skin has formed.

Those who have been exposed to the virus but don’t have symptoms aren’t required to quarantine, but they should get in touch with their local health department since they may be eligible for a vaccine.

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