Monkeypox task force launched in Oakland County

Christian Peck-Dimit
The Detroit News

A monkeypox task force has been created in Oakland County to respond to six confirmed or probable cases in the county.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said Thursday the group was launched to “prepare for what may be to come." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Michigan has had 19 confirmed cases as of July 10, with nearly a third of them being Oakland County residents.

From left, Dr. Paul Benson, medical director at Be Well Medical Center; Oakland County Health Officer Dr. Calandra Green, and Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter field questions at a press conference addressing monkeypox at the North Oakland Health Center on Thursday.

The state of Michigan has access to 2,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine, and the Oakland County Health Division has enough to vaccinate 340 people. 

According to Coulter, pharmaceutical companies are gearing up production of the vaccine, with the county expecting more doses by the end of August and significantly more by October.

More:Why monkeypox won't be the next COVID-19 in Michigan

More:1st probable case of monkeypox found in Michigan; what is it and where is it spreading

"So our challenge now is what happens between now and then," Coulter said. "Because frankly that is not good enough now for what we know is a virus that we can nip in the bud if we have the resources that we need."

Monkeypox images used during the press conference at press conference addressing the Monkeypox Task Force in Respond to the Monkeypox Outbreak on Thursday July 21st 2022 in Pontiac, Michigan.

"I am urging the federal government and the Centers for Disease Control to expedite that development, production and distribution of the drugs that will help prevent and treat this emerging virus," Coulter said.

Joining Coulter on the task force is Oakland County Health Officer Calandra Green, who will be leading it, and infectious disease and HIV specialist Paul Benson.

Benson has seen all of the confirmed Oakland County monkeypox patients, and is the only doctor in the region authorized by the CDC to prescribe tecovirimat (TPOXX), a treatment for monkeypox. 

Dr. Calandra Green answering questions at a press conference addressing monkeypox at the North Oakland Health Center on Thursday July 21st 2022 in Pontiac, Michigan.

“They’re going to help develop communication, an education plan for our residents, and they’ll also create a plan for vaccine distribution, when that day comes, because we know that the number of cases is going to increase” Coulter said. 

Coulter emphasized that the vaccine supply the county currently has is not sufficient for preventive vaccinations, and that the available vaccines will only be going to those at a high risk or who have been in close contact with a confirmed case.

“I don’t want to be alarmist today, but we must be prepared for the potential spread of this virus across our state,” Coulter said. “The population of individuals most at risk of getting monkeypox at this moment is far greater than our capacity to vaccinate them.”

Coulter sited locations like New York City that have seen an exponential growth in their number of cases.

“In New York City, the number of cases has doubled in more than a week, so that’s the potential,” Coulter said. “Our numbers have been increasing exponentially too, again, much smaller, but on the same kind of exponential scale.”

Most cases so far in the United States have been among men who have sex with other men. The disease is spread through close skin-to-skin contact.

As the case count begins to grow, Benson urged all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, to be aware of the virus. Benson cited the virus' history, as it was first found in humans in the 1970s in Africa.

"At that time, there was no predilection for it affecting gay men, in fact, gay men were very few if any of the cases in Africa," Benson said. "So something has changed, because when monkeypox escaped Africa, it was there for many years, it now is affecting gay men."

Benson emphasized the need to be wary of intimate physical contact with someone who is displaying possible symptoms. The most obvious outward symptom is a rash that can look like pimples or blisters on the face, in the mouth and other parts of the body, according to the CDC. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks.

"People, whether you're gay or straight, need to do something we're all capable of doing, but we don't always do it well, and that's have common sense," Benson said. "Don't live by those five words, 'Maybe it will go away.' If you have an issue, act responsibly to avoid spreading the virus to others, similar to what we're doing with COVID."