Georgia health officials have started vaccinating people in Georgia who are at high risk of contracting monkeypox, a serious but rarely fatal disease. But they warn that the vaccine’s supply is limited.
Monkeypox vaccines from the federal government began arriving in Georgia on Friday. The state has enough does for 1,500 individuals.
The high-risk pool includes men who have sex with men in the metro Atlanta area, and men who have had multiple partners in the past two weeks.
Cases of monkeypox are rising exponentially. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case in Georgia’s history just last month. Now, the CDC has confirmed nearly 100 cases in Georgia,
That’s more than double the number of cases confirmed July 12, less than a week ago.
Monkeypox is caused by a virus in the same family that causes smallpox, and symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms but milder, according to the CDC.
Its defining feature is a rash.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, leading to the naming of the disease (which is not related to chickenpox).
In the past five years, scientists had confirmed only eight cases, and those were among travelers who carried monkeypox to countries outside Africa, including two cases last year in the United States. Each case was linked to a person who had recently spent time in Nigeria, a country that experienced a resurgence in monkeypox starting in 2017.
In those cases, the human-to-human spread was limited, with two family members who became infected in one instance, according to the World Health Organization. One health care worker who had contact with contaminated bedsheets was infected in another case, report experts in an article published in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Monkeypox had never appeared more or less simultaneously across different countries or continents, Andrea McCollum, the poxvirus epidemiology team lead at the CDC, said in an interview with JAMA in May
However, the current outbreak is different.
Georgia Department of Public Health epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek said that what experts know about monkeypox is not lining up with what they are seeing.
“Traditionally, we’ve always seen very rare, travel-associated monkeypox cases in other countries from individuals that have been traveling to areas of West or Central Africa or had been in contact with animals there,” Drenzek said. “But since May, since this outbreak was discovered, it really has exploded in a short period of time.”
During the July 12 DPH board meeting, Drenzek reminded members that four weeks earlier, there were 1,500 monkeypox cases around the world, which Drenzek thought was tremendous.
“Many of these individuals are, you know, are not extremely sick,” Drenzek said. “They’re not they’re not presenting with a fever. They really don’t have lymphadenopathy and the number of lesions in the monkeypox rash is very minimal. You know, some of them have very few lesions or maybe even one or two.”
The mission of the DPH, Drenzek said, is to find cases through contact tracing, and isolate them so the disease will not continue spreading.
“And that’s how we’ve stopped and eradicated many, many, many other infectious disease outbreaks,” she said.
Where to get monkeypox vaccine
The rise in monkeypox cases is leading Georgians to seek vaccination, but health officials warn that vaccines are limited and available only to individuals at high risk for the disease.
The DPH said Friday it has 3,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine, which is a two-vaccine series with 28 days in between doses, so the state has enough for 1,500 individuals.
The vaccine has been distributed upon request to health departments and for vaccination events in two counties. Allocations of monkeypox vaccine from the federal government will increase as production of the vaccine ramps up, DPH said.
Dorian Freeman of the Gwinnett Newton Rockdale Public Health Department said her agency got 200 doses of JYNNEO, and partnered with Positive Impact Health Center to offer vaccine Saturday to high-risk Atlantans.
“We sent notifications to some of our patients that we see in our clinics and clients of other community-based organizations and our appointments were filled within several hours,” Freeman said.
While anyone can get the disease through close contact, people at high risk include men who have sex with men, and men who have had multiple sexual partners within the Atlanta area in the past two weeks, she said.
But Freeman said everyone is vulnerable.
“Monkeypox is spread through direct contact with infectious rash scabs or body fluid,” she said. “Respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact and intimate contact, such as kissing and cuddling. And so that’s the main way that monkeypox is transmitted.”
Also the disease can also be transmitted through touching objects such as fabric that were previously touched or came in contact with an individual diagnosed monkeypox.
“If someone comes in contact with the linen or towel or anything that was used by the individuals, they can contract monkeypox that way,” Freeman said.
An animal that has monkeypox can also transmit the disease to human via scratch or bite.
There is no residency requirement to receive vaccination against monkeypox. However, individuals must register for an appointment and meet certain eligibility requirements.
While monkeypox does not spread like COVID-19, everyone should take steps to protect themselves from monkeypox.
- Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
- Do not touch the rash or scabs of a person with monkeypox.
- Do not kiss, hug, cuddle, or have close personal contact with someone with monkeypox.
- Do not share eating utensils or cups with a person with monkeypox.
- Do not handle or touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with monkeypox.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
DPH officials say they are working to create online scheduling for monkeypox vaccine as allocations increase, and they urge individuals who may have had contact with monkeypox or are high risk of exposure to contact their health care provider.
This story comes to Reporter Newspapers / Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.