The United States is preparing to vaccinate people who have been in close contact with monkeypox patients as the country, which now has five probable or confirmed cases, expects their numbers to rise.
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“We want to maximize vaccine distribution to those we know would benefit,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) manager Jennifer McQuiston said Monday.
“That is, those who have been in contact with a known monkeypox patient, like caregivers, very close personal contacts, especially those who are at risk of developing a severe case of the disease,” he told a news conference.
One case has been confirmed in Massachusetts; four more are about to be analyzed but considered very likely (one in New York, one in Florida, two in Utah). All are men who have traveled outside of the United States.
This disease, a less dangerous cousin of smallpox, which was eradicated some forty years ago, begins with a high fever and quickly progresses to a scabbing rash. It is these lesions that allow transmission of the disease in the event of contact.
What fascinates and worries experts is the co-occurrence of cases in many countries, particularly in Europe, without being linked to returns from African countries where the disease is endemic.
US authorities confirmed that the sequencing of the virus discovered in Massachusetts matched that identified in a patient in Portugal and that it was the strain found in West Africa, the less serious of the two in circulation.
Most infected people recover spontaneously within two to four weeks without specific treatment.
But the American authorities are still preparing the answer.
Two smallpox vaccines approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be used. The first, ACAM2000, is a live attenuated vaccine that is not recommended for people with a compromised immune system. The United States has 100 million doses.
Because of “potentially significant” side effects, its widespread adoption would require “a real discussion,” estimated Jennifer McQuiston.
The second, Jynneos, is also a live vaccine but is not replicable and is therefore considered safer. The United States has just 1,000 cans, but that number is “expected to increase rapidly in the coming weeks,” according to the official.
She says the data shows that these two vaccines can help prevent the disease from developing if given shortly after exposure.
She also emphasized that the risk of infection for the population as a whole remains low.