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U.S. declares monkeypox a national health emergency. Is it too little, too late?

On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox to be a global health emergency.

Now the wait is on for more of the monkeypox vaccine called Jynneos. As The New York Times reports, although the administration’s announcement will not hasten the availability of the drug, it will speed up access to tecovirimat, another drug used to treat the disease.

Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the World Health Organization’s advisory panel on monkeypox, says the White House’s declaration sends “a strong message that this is important, that it must be dealt with now.”

But James Krellenstein, a founder of PrEP4All, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, says, “This is all too late. … I don’t really understand why they didn’t do this weeks ago.”

USA Today reports that there are 6,326 cases and counting of monkeypox in the U.S., and most people were exposed via close contact with rashes, scabs, or bodily fluids (as occurs during sex), touching infected items like linens or clothing, and respiratory droplets.

Most reported cases have been with men who have had sex with men, but anyone can get the virus. So despite some framing that paints monkeypox as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it is not. Everyone who breathes air is susceptible to the virus.

Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, Brigham and Women’s chief of infectious disease, tells NBC Boston: “It has not—up until the present time—been classified as an STI, but there’s no question that it can be sexually transmitted. … Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection in the way that, say, gonorrhea or chlamydia or syphilis are considered STIs because those are the predominant routes of transmission, but it certainly can be a sexually transmitted infection.”

“What I guess we don’t know for certain is whether semen and vaginal secretions themselves can be infectious,” Kuritzkes said. And it’s unclear whether or not condoms could reduce the risk of transmission.

In late July, the World Health Organization did recommend that gay and bisexual men limit their contact with sexual partners to help slow the spread of the virus. 

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