Now that monkeypox has been officially declared a “global emergency” by the World Health Organization, perhaps government officials will mobilize more resources and bring more public attention to address this public health threat.
More than 16,000 cases have been reported in more than 70 countries, including about 2,900 in the United States, from Friday, as the epidemic is accelerating mainly but not exclusively among gay and bisexual men.
Former US surgeon general Dr Jerome Adams said it was only a matter of time before the outbreak spreads more widely through the population. He called on the US government to take more aggressive action to educate the public and combat the spread of the virus.
Adams, Distinguished Professor and Executive Director of Health Equity Initiatives at Purdue University and a member of USA TODAY’s Contributor Opinion Panel, spoke Friday with editorial board members Austin Bogues and Steven Porter. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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What should the public keep in mind about monkeypox right now?
What we need to understand about monkeypox is that it is a rapidly changing situation. We are seeing an exponential spread of cases, but we are seeing these cases right now, focused on the MSM community or men who have sex with men.
There are many different reasons for this, including the fact that there are social networks where this is spreading, including the types of activities that occur. Personal contact, direct contact is traditionally how monkeypox is spread. So we need to focus on education, testing and resources for these communities so we can control the spread now.
But we also need to be aware that it’s not “if”, it’s “when” we start to see the spread beyond the MSM community in the United States.
As colleges return this fall, is monkeypox transmission a concern?
At present, again, we know that monkeypox is transmitted through close personal contact. And this current epidemic has really spread through sexual contact, especially among men who have sex with men. We know that college students tend to have more sex than the general population.
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There are men who have sex with men – many of them also have sex with women – in academia. We therefore need to ensure that students are aware of the symptoms of monkeypox.
I always encourage people to practice safer sex, to wear condoms. We do not yet know if this will significantly reduce the risk of contracting monkeypox. It won’t eliminate it completely. But in any case, it’s a good idea to use a condom if you have sex, especially with someone you don’t know, and we must be prepared to respond quickly to any outbreak on campus. in order to contain it.
Do we have the capacity to vaccinate, test and treat monkeypox on college campuses?
Right now we don’t have the capacity to properly treat and vaccinate people against monkeypox. And, that’s an important distinction here for monkeypox: you can vaccinate people at risk before they’re exposed, but you can also use vaccines as post-exposure prophylaxis – that’s why it’s important that people at risk know that if you have been exposed and are in the early stages of symptomatology, you can actually get vaccinated at that time, which can prevent disease progression. But we don’t have enough vaccines available in this country.
Right now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has explained how they’re expanding testing to more places, but we’re having many of the same testing issues that we encountered with early COVID-19 testing where the most of it was centralized at the CDC. It was very hard to get and it took a long time for people to get their test results. By the time you get a test result, you have already passed it on to other people.
So the honest answer is no, we don’t have the capacity we need, but we see it gradually starting to grow, and experts like me are calling on the CDC and the federal government to do more, to increase testing, increasing vaccines and increasing communication about monkeypox.
Dr. Jerome Adams, a former American Surgeon General, is a Distinguished Professor and Executive Director of Health Equity Initiatives at Purdue University and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JeromeAdamsMD
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Monkeypox ‘global emergency’ calls for more aggressive US response