US to declare public health emergency over monkeypox outbreak

WASHINGTON — The U.S. will declare a public health emergency to bolster the federal response to the outbreak of monkeypox that already has infected more than 6,600 Americans, two people familiar with the matter said.

The announcement will free up federal funding and resources to fight the virus, which may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

The declaration comes as the the Biden administration has faced criticism over the pace of vaccine availability for monkeypox. Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they haven’t received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand and some have had to stop offering the second dose of the vaccine to ensure supply of first doses. The White House said it has made more than 1.1 million doses of vaccine available and has helped to boost domestic diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.

The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing. People getting sick so far have been primarily men who have sex with men. But health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone.

The announcement comes three days after the Biden administration named top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as the White House coordinators to combat the monkeypox outbreak.

What does a federal public health emergency declaration do? 

A Public Health Emergency Declaration is made by the secretary of Health and Human Services—in this case, Xavier Becerra.

“It would allow HHS to instantaneously do some things that it can’t presently do quickly,” James Hodge, law professor at Arizona State University said to WUSA9

It enables Bacerra to hire people, make grants, enter contracts, waive certain requirements and access additional funds, for example.

He continued, “In fact, Congress has been reticent to do it. Now, monkeypox may change its mind very quickly. But the sheer fact is, the funds that normally would be there, to the tune of millions of dollars, simply may not be at this point in time.”

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

The symptoms tend to overlap with those of most viruses. Fevers, headaches, chills, muscle aches, exhaustion and swollen lymph nodes are all symptoms of monkeypox. The true indicator that distinctly separates it from the rest is a pimple-like rash that appears on the face and other parts of the body, according to the CDC.

“The symptoms of monkeypox are very much like the symptoms of a cold initially,” said Dr. Payal Kohli, assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado. “So if you’ve got fevers, exhaustion, chills, a rash with or without swollen lymph nodes, you have to have a pretty high concern that it could potentially be monkeypox.”

Symptoms may vary from person to person, and the rashes can appear at different stages and typically last 2-4 weeks. Some people tend to get rashes first and then symptoms, but others might just get a rash.

The CDC recommends monitoring temperatures twice a day if exposed to someone with monkeypox as well as keeping an eye for other symptoms. Once symptoms develop, immediate isolation is recommended.

Here is the full list of symptoms according to the CDC: 

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Respiratory symptoms, such as a sore throat, nasal congestion or cough
  • A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.