Monkeypox cases more than double in Michigan; emergency declaration called unusual

The country's top health official declared the quickly spreading Monkeypox outbreak a national public health emergency on Thursday, as cases skyrocketed across the country and in Michigan, where the number grew 164% in a week.

Confirmed and probable cases of the virus rose from 25 on July 27 to 66 through Wednesday, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' website. The nation had 6,617 confirmed cases confirmed as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just over three weeks ago, there were only six cases around the state.

It's unusual for a public health emergency to be declared for a disease that's unlikely to cause death, said Dr. Nigel Paneth, an emeritus distinguished professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and pediatrics at Michigan State University. No deaths from monkeypox were reported by the CDC through Wednesday.

But the emergency declaration will free up resources to fight monkeypox and signals that health officials are taking the outbreak seriously, Paneth said.

"Given that it’s not killing very many people, I think it’s not a massive public health emergency but people feel that they better get it under control," Paneth said Thursday. 

State health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin also indicated the public health emergency declaration "will help mobilize more resources to fight the outbreak."

"In Michigan, we continue to work to ensure those at highest risk from severe monkeypox disease have access to vaccine and are working to obtain pre-deployed doses of the anti-viral medication TPOXX (Tecovirimat) to reduce the time between a patient qualifying for and starting their treatment," Sutfin said in a statement.

Michigan has received just over 7,600 doses of the anti-Monkeypox vaccine, said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Chelsea Wuth. State health officials expect to receive around 14,500 total doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine through the first three phases of the government's pre-deployment plan, she added. 

As of Tuesday morning, 416 individuals have received JYNNEOS in Michigan, according to Wuth.

"It is important to note we don’t have real-time data for vaccines administered and that there is a slight lag in administration data being reported to MDHHS," she said.

Michigan ranked 19th highest for cases in the nation through Wednesday, according to the CDC, whose numbers tend to lag behind Michigan's reported totals. New York leads the country with more than 1,600 cases; only Wyoming and Montana have not reported cases.

New York, California, Illinois, Texas and Florida account for more than 60% of all the Monkeypox cases reported across the country, according to CDC data. California and Illinois declared state public health emergencies on Monday, following a declaration by the state of New York on Friday.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra's announcement Thursday followed the World Health Organization's declaration of a global health emergency late last month.

At a Thursday afternoon media briefing, Becerra said the emergency status will allow the government more flexibility and resources to deal with the monkeypox outbreak.

"I think the main reason is to increase some resources (to fight) the condition," said MSU's Paneth. "It really opens up the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to do more things. It allows it to bypass some of it’s more stringent rules."

The FDA was able to give emergency authorization to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments because of a public health emergency declaration, he said, adding that "It gives them great flexibility."

In Michigan, there have been 26 total cases in Wayne County, including 17 specifically in Detroit, according to the state health department. Oakland County has 12 cases and Macomb County has eight.

There are cluster of cases in other parts of the state. In west Michigan, Kent County has reported seven cases. Neighboring Ottawa County has two cases, Ionia one and Montcalm one.

Washtenaw County has reported four cases, as has Ingham County. Neighboring Livingston County has one case, as does St. Clair County. 

Paneth said monkeypox isn't nearly as contagious as COVID-19. Most of the cases so far have been been spread through male-to-male sexual contact, but the virus can also be spread though heterosexual contact, or through the non-sexual touching of someone who has the disease, he said. 

People at risk should be vaccinated and avoid contact with others if they have symptoms, Paneth noted.

The infection often begins with flu-like symptoms and swelling of the lymph nodes. The disease progresses to a rash on the face and body, according to the state health department. The rash can look like pimples or blisters and can be on the face, inside the mouth or on other parts of the body. Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, chills and exhaustion.

The illness typically lasts between two and four weeks, according to the CDC. Unlike COVID, asymptomatic people cannot spread the virus.

The first case in Michigan was announced on June 29 in an Oakland County resident. The virus has spread around the world.

But before this, most cases found in people living outside of Africa were linked either to international travel in places where the disease occurs or through contact with animals imported from other countries, the CDC has said.

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