By Maritza Ramirez
Since the start of the monkeypox epidemic in May 2022, two of California’s most populous cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have been the most heavily affected in the state, with San Francisco at 795 cases and Los Angeles at 2,002 cases, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
As said by the CDPH, monkeypox (MPX) is a rare and infectious disease, akin to that of smallpox, “that belongs to the orthopoxvirus genus which includes the variola (smallpox) as well as the vaccinia virus, which is used in the smallpox vaccine…[and] is less transmissible and usually less severe than smallpox”. Common symptoms have been noted to be similar to the flu, including fatigue, fever, and body aches, but within 1-3 days of contracting a fever, rashes and sores that look like pimples or blisters will begin to appear on the skin. Transmission usually occurs through direct skin to skin contact with someone who has MPX or contact with bodily fluids from someone who has MPX (both directly or indirectly). The main prevention method is to be vocal with those around you about any new sores or rashes one has on their body, particularly with sexual partners, and taking the necessary precautions to avoid contact with anyone you think has MPX or avoiding contact with anyone should you potentially become exposed and/or infected.
The first detected case of monkeypox (MPX) in the United States was found on May 17, 2022 from a traveler returning from Canada to Massachusetts. Several days later, on May 21, 2022, the first case of the monkeypox virus was reported in California by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having been detected in a Sacramento county resident.
The cases continued to increase, particularly in California, and by June 23, 2022, 59 California residents were diagnosed with MPX. On July 27, the Biden administration approved the distribution of 800,000 vaccines nationwide, with 72,000 of these vaccines given (in a staggered manner) to California, An additional 43,000 went directly to Los Angeles County. Subsequently, walk-in vaccine clinics by appointment were set up throughout the state, particularly in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County, in a similar fashion to that of COVID-19 clinics.
On August 1, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California, after San Francisco declared its own local emergency five days prior. This same day, California Senator Scott Weiner reported in a Tweet that “detail [had been added] to [the] request for an emergency state budget appropriation to help counties respond to the monkeypox outbreak: $38.5 million for expanded testing, vaccination, treatment, and outreach”. This same week, California public health officials reported the need for the state to have 600,000 to 800,000 vaccines to combat the spread of the disease, the same amount that the Biden administration said they would distribute nationwide.
As of today, there are currently over 5,000 cases of monkeypox in California (now the most impacted state in the nation), making it doubly important that the public is fully aware of what monkeypox is and what treatments are available.
At this moment, there is no official treatment or medication for monkeypox, but most cases of MPX are mild and a large number of patients recover without extensive external treatment. For more severe cases, however, doctors are conducting investigations to decide whether the smallpox antiviral drug, tecovirimat (TPOXX), will become an FDA-approved drug to combat monkeypox.
As for getting vaccinated against MPX, doctors are gambling with a smallpox vaccine, known as JYNNEOS, to battle the spread of the disease. However, its reliability is questionable. As reported by Krista Mahr in Politico, although “studies conducted by its Danish manufacturer have shown it works against monkeypox…in animals…the World Health Organization has warned against relying on the vaccine alone, citing scattered ‘breakthrough’ infections in vaccinated people in Europe”. Given how infectious the disease is and how quickly it is spreading, it is imperative that more funding be put towards the manufacturing and testing of vaccines to mitigate any spreading of MPX.
Maritza is currently a freshman at UC Berkeley as an intended Sociology major. She is from the Los Angeles area, and in her free time enjoys to read, binge watch murder mysteries, collage, do martial arts, and explore fun new places to eat and hang out with friends.