Local officials hope for more monkeypox vaccines as cases in Texas climb
As of late last week, Texas had the fourth highest monkeypox caseload in the country and demand for the vaccine against the virus is increasing.
Texas had more than 700 cases statewide as of Aug. 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only New York, California and Florida have more cases.
Dallas County reported 224 confirmed cases as of Friday, the highest in the state. The outbreak prompted Dallas County officials to declare a public health emergency, KERA reported. In Houston there were 151 reported cases as of Friday, with an additional 22 in Harris County, according to the Harris County Public Health office. Another 16 cases have been reported in San Antonio; and nine have been reported in Travis County where officials are also monitoring 46 presumptive cases.
Monkeypox is generally associated with a rash that may be located on or near the genitals, anus, or areas like the hands, feet, face, mouth and chest, according to the CDC. Additional symptoms include fever and chills, swollen lymph nodes, muscle and back aches, exhaustion, headaches and congestion or a cough.
The Texas Department of State Health Services defines monkeypox as a “serious illness” that could lead to hospitalization.
“In recent years, the case fatality rate has been 3 to 6%, and the number of deaths from monkeypox disease has been higher in young children,” the Texas DSHS states.
The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency last month when there were more than 16,000 cases in 75 countries. The White House followed suit late last week in a move that frees up resources to help prevent the spread, the Associated Press reported.
Local officials said that should translate into more vaccine doses for Texas cities. So far Houston has received more than 16,500 doses, 30% of which were provided to the Harris County Public Health Department, Houston Public Media reported. But Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city needs more.
“The cases are exponentially increasing. So, the demand is out there, the demand is high, it exceeds our supply. But we do need more and certainly encouraging the CDC and the state to send us more,” Turner said. As of Monday, there were about 5,700 doses available.
At a Friday press conference, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said that were enough vaccines available to cover the first dose for about 5,000 people.
“We have the most monkeypox cases in the state of Texas and we are going to defeat monkeypox through tracing people who have been in contact with a person with monkeypox, testing them and getting the vaccine out to the most vulnerable populations,” he said.
Officials with the Austin Public Health Department had about 1,500 vaccine doses and are expecting more.
Dr. Jennifer Shuford, the state’s chief epidemiologist, told the Texas Standard on Friday that the current spread is mainly being driven by skin-to-skin contact — most of which has occurred after a person has already experienced some symptoms.
“So, people can become aware that they’re ill and then they start to get a rash. And those are real indicators to a person that they need to isolate themselves and seek medical attention to find out what’s causing their symptoms,” Shuford said. Thankfully, she added, it’s not as contagious as COVID-19 and transmission hasn’t been traced back to airline travel or patients infecting their healthcare providers.
The majority of the people affected so far have been gay or bisexual men who have had sex or close contact with an infected individual. That’s led to doctors and authorities to warn against stigmatizing certain segments of the population. It’s also prompted them to remind the public that anyone can catch the illness.
“We know that this can easily spread to women and to children as well if they have that same level of close contact with somebody who has monkeypox,” she said, adding that it’s not considered a regular sexually transmitted disease “where it just comes from those sexual contact or sexual fluids,” she said. “This can be just skin-to-skin contact or even respiratory secretions. And so, it really is not limited to [gay or bisexual men]. It’s anyone who has that close a contact with somebody who has monkeypox.”
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