NEW YORK (AP) — Gay and bisexual men at high risk for mpox infection should get vaccinated for the virus even after the current outbreak ends, government health advisers said Wednesday.
The committee’s recommendation now goes to the director to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and — if she signs off on it — is sent out as guidance to U.S. doctors.
More than 30,000 U.S. mpox cases were reported last year. The number dropped dramatically this year, to about 800. But because the virus doesn’t naturally circulate in the U.S., any single case counts as an outbreak, according to the CDC.
Mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, is caused by a virus that’s in the same family as the one that causes smallpox. It is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals.
The virus was not known to spread easily among people, but cases exploded in Europe and the U.S. in the spring and summer of 2022, mostly among men who have sex with men. Deaths were rare, but many people suffered painful skin lesions for weeks.
A two-dose vaccine, Jynneos, became a primary weapon in the U.S. It’s recommended primarily for men who have sex with men who have more than one sex partner, who have recently had a sexually transmitted disease, or who are at higher risk for infections through sexual contact for other reasons.
About 500,000 people in the U.S. have gotten the recommended two doses of the vaccine, about a quarter of the 2 million who are eligible, CDC officials said.
The new recommendation may serve to remind people the virus is still out there, and that people can be infected during international travel, CDC officials said.
The daily average of new U.S. cases is one to four per day, though some people likely aren’t being diagnosed, CDC officials said. Two deaths were reported in September, bringing the total to 54 in the U.S. since mpox hit last year.
San Francisco had more than 800 cases last year, but the count dropped to an average of only one per month in the first half this of year. The number of cases rose to seven in August, 20 last month and at least 10 so far this month.
“Things are much better than they were last summer,” said Dr. Stephanie Cohen, who oversees STD prevention work at San Francisco’s health department. “But there are (still) many more cases than there should be.”
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