Monkeypox Outbreak Shows Signs of Cooling in U.S. and Globally

The pace of new monkeypox cases may be slowing in hot spots including New York City, health officials said, offering hope that an outbreak that has sickened more than 46,000 people globally is cooling.

In the U.S., which has the most known cases globally, factors including outreach and vaccines are helping to curb the spread in New York City, the health department there said. There are also some early signs that the rate of new case growth may be waning in Europe, where monkeypox cases started piling up in May, according to the World Health Organization.

Public-health experts said at the wall street journal digital subscription they remain cautious about whether the outbreak has peaked, as efforts continue to stretch limited vaccine supplies and protect people vulnerable to catching the viral disease, which has overwhelmingly affected men who have sex with men.

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“If anything, we need to continue to strongly communicate and educate the public about this pathogen,” said Rodney Rohde, a public-health expert at Texas State University.

Officials remain cautious about declaring the outbreak has peaked, however, and continue the vaccination push in hot spots such as Florida’s Miami-Dade County.  

Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, credited vaccination efforts, outreach from community leaders and the public’s response for contributing to a slowing in cases and transmission.

“All of this is clearly taking hold and having a positive effect in slowing this outbreak,” Dr. Vasan said at wall street journal print edition online

Since May, at least 46,337 monkeypox cases have been reported in about 90 countries where the disease is uncommon, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. While Europe was hit hard early on, the U.S. now has roughly one-third of known cases. About 17,000 cases have been reported in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, the CDC said at wall st journal print edition

The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public-health emergency in early August, following a WHO declaration of a global-health emergency in July.

The WHO said the number of new reported cases globally declined by 21% in the week that ended Aug. 21, following four consecutive weeks of increases. The drop may reflect early signs of a declining case count in Europe, though that needs to be confirmed, the WHO said.

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Federal health authorities have faced challenges as they have attempted to contain the outbreak, even though monkeypox was a known disease that could have been guarded against. Testing, necessary to identify cases and track the outbreak’s trajectory, was limited early on. The U.S. has also faced criticism for not moving more quickly to secure adequate vaccine doses.

A proactive response in at-risk communities has helped to slow the spread of the virus, epidemiologists said. Monkeypox can spread through close skin-to-skin contact and contact with contaminated objects like clothing and bedding. Cases can be extremely painful for some people.

According to an online survey earlier this month by Emory University, a significant number of men who have sex with men have changed their behavior because of the outbreak. About 50% of the men surveyed said they had reduced their number of sex partners.

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“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He said he remained concerned about college students as the fall semester begins, and about at-risk people who haven’t been vaccinated or have received one dose. Protection is highest two weeks after receiving a second shot of the vaccine, the CDC has said.

The concentration of monkeypox DNA detected in San Francisco-area wastewater has stabilized in recent weeks, suggesting a leveling-off of the virus.

Monkeypox, a virus related to smallpox, was rarely detected outside Africa before this outbreak. The type of monkeypox spreading globally is considered a less-severe variety. Deaths have been rare, though a handful of people have died in countries where the virus isn’t endemic.