Washington: The Biden administration is considering whether to declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency as cases in the US soared to more than 2800, including two children, on Friday, a White House official said.
“Certainly, it’s a conversation that’s ongoing,” Ashish Jha, the White House Covid response coordinator told reporters. “We’re looking at that, looking at what are the ways in which the response could be enhanced by declaring a public health emergency.”
Jha added that any declaration would come from the Department of Health and Human Services.
One of the two first paediatric cases is a toddler in California and the other an infant who is not a US resident but was tested while in Washington DC, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The children were in good health and receiving treatment. How they caught the disease was being investigated, but officials think it was through household transmission. Other details weren’t immediately disclosed.
Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, but this year thousands of cases have been reported in countries that historically don’t see the disease.
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The World Health Organisation has been debating whether to declare an emergency, expected as soon as Saturday, after the number of infections reported globally surpassed 16,000. Around the world, monkeypox is still primarily affecting men who have sex with men and those who identify as gay or bisexual.
In the US, health officials said that about 99 per cent of cases involved men who have sex with men and that the median age of patients was 36. But the two paediatric cases raise concerns the virus is finding its way into other populations.
Jennifer McQuiston, the CDC’s deputy director of high consequence pathogens and pathology, said that infections of people who are not part of the LGBTQ community aren’t surprising.
“While this outbreak is spreading in a particular social network right now, I think we’ve messaged from the start that there could be cases that occur outside those networks,” McQuiston said. “We need to be vigilant and ready to respond.”
As part of that effort, US health officials said they were clarifying how to use the Siga smallpox antiviral medication, Tpoxx, in children.
Officials have said the virus can spread through close personal contact, and via towels and bedding. That means it can happen in homes, likely through prolonged or intensive contact, said Dr James Lawler, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre.
“People don’t crawl on each other’s beds unless they are living in the same house or family,” he said.
In Europe, there have been at least six monkeypox cases among children under 17.
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This week, doctors in the Netherlands published a report of a boy at an Amsterdam hospital with about 20 red-brown bumps scattered across his body. It was monkeypox, and doctors said they could not determine how he got it.
In Africa, monkeypox infections in children have been more common, and doctors have noted higher proportions of severe cases and deaths in young children.
One reason may be that many older adults were vaccinated against smallpox as kids, likely giving them some protection against the related monkeypox virus, Lawler said. Smallpox vaccinations were discontinued when the disease was eradicated about 40 years ago.