What Does the Monkeypox Outbreak Look Like for Atlanta?

Georgia ranks No. 4 in the nation in terms of monkeypox transmissions

Monkeypox lesions. Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Georgia ranks No. 4 in the nation in terms of monkeypox transmissions with 82% of cases being Black gay men, many of who are HIV positive. These numbers give the impression that monkeypox is a “Black disease” or a “gay disease.” That is not true. Anyone can be infected. In a study conducted by epidemiologists, Black men in Atlanta have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, and the Georgia Situational Update reports that, racially, monkeypox has also impacted Caucasians, women, Hispanics, and Asians ages 18 to 66.

What Is Monkeypox?

It is a rash located near the genitals — penis, vaginal and anus and even inside a person’s mouth. Initial symptoms look like pimples that may itch or be painful to touch. A person can also experience flu-like symptoms followed by a rash with sometimes painful pus-filled blisters that will eventually scab and fall off.

What Are Atlanta Health Professionals Saying?

Dr. David Foulkes, community health outreach manager of Thrive SS Atlanta.

During the virtual “Atlanta Pride Monkeypox Townhall,” Dr. David Foulkes, community health outreach manager of Thrive SS, spoke to medical mistrust in the Black community regarding vaccines, given America’s history. Dr. Folkes pointed out that monkeypox is not present in seminal or vaginal fluid but sexual contact facilitates the transmission of the virus. He also shared a graphic noting that “vaccination is 85% effective in preventing monkeypox and is also effective in reducing symptoms and preventing complications.”

How is Monkeypox Caught?

The virus is transmitted by close, personal contact, including skin-to-skin touches, kisses or other sexually intimate contacts, or by touching fabrics or objects touched by someone infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can also be transmitted from a mother to an unborn fetus.

People with monkeypox are considered infectious from the time symptoms show until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed. Exposure occurs by:

  • Breathing in respiratory droplets from an infected person and/or,
  • Directly or indirectly touching infected body fluids, lesions or contaminated clothing

“Public health efforts should prioritize gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, who are currently disproportionately affected, for prevention and testing, while addressing equity, minimizing stigma, and maintaining vigilance for transmission in other populations,” the CDC said.

Additional analysis shows that all of the patients had a rash. However, a genital rash was more commonly reported in the current outbreak than in the U.S. than in other countries. It was the most common location for rash (46%), followed by arms (40%), face (38%) and legs (37%). More than a third of cases with available data reported rash in four or more regions.

Who Has the Highest Risk of Getting Infected?

According to the CDC, the current risk to the public of contracting monkeypox appears to be low. If you have symptoms of monkeypox (such as rash or lesions like those in the photos above), contact your healthcare provider. This includes persons who:

  • Recently traveled to countries where monkeypox cases have been reported and/or
  • Had contact with a person who has a similar rash caused by a confirmed or suspected monkeypox infection.

Although monkeypox can infect anyone, nationally, among the cases with available data, 94% were in men who reported recent sexual or close intimate contact with another man. More than half (54%) of cases were among Black and Hispanic people, a group that represents about a third (34%) of the general U.S. population. And the share of cases among Black people has grown in recent weeks, according to the CDC analysis.

Where Can I Get Vaccinated?

The CDC initially announced vaccines were being released from the strategic national stockpile and offered to the high-risk contacts of monkeypox patients, as well as the health care workers treating them. Federal health officials have since expanded vaccination efforts to focus on the broader community of men who have sex with men, the demographic that makes up most U.S. cases.

In Atlanta, only 200 doses of Jynneos were available in July and patients achieved full immunity 14 days after receiving the second dose. More doses are available but due to the limited supply, priority is given to high-risk individuals with the vaccine used as:

  • Postexposure prevention (PEP) for individuals with high-risk exposure to a confirmed monkeypox case
  • Expanded postexposure prevention (PEP++) to people with certain risk factors that might make them likely to have had high-risk exposure to monkeypox, or in response to outbreaks where the spread is occurring
  • Pre-exposure prevention (PreP) for people with certain jobs that may place them at high risk for potential exposure, such as laboratory staff working with monkeypox specimens

The Georgia Department of Public Health notes the vaccine is most beneficial when received within four days of exposure, but some may benefit up to 14 days following exposure. If it is given after the fourth day, the jab may reduce the symptoms of virus, but may not prevent it. Due to limited vaccine supply, vaccines are being currently prioritized for PEP and PEP++ patients.

If you qualify, you may contact the Georgia Department of Public Health or the Public Health Office in your area for vaccine events and information.

Georgia Department of Public Health
2 Peachtree Street, NW
15th Floor
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
+1 (404) 657-2700

Fulton County Board of Health
+1 (404) 613-1401

I Think I Got Infected. What do I do?

If you are symptomatic, do not engage in any physical contact with another person. Isolate and contact your local health department. Refraining from touching surfaces that others may come into contact with will go a long way in lessening the spread of the monkeypox virus.

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