Mpox cases rise in US, Europe, & Asia, as WHO declares end to global emergency

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The World Health Organization (WHO) lifted its public health emergency designation for mpox on Thursday, even as authorities in the U.S., Europe, and Asia reported a rise in cases over the last two months.

On Monday, Chicago reported eight new cases of mpox over the last 22 days, compared to just a single mpox positive in the previous three months.

More worrying still, six of those eight cases were among gay and bi men who were fully vaccinated against mpox. A seventh man had a single dose of the Jynneos two-dose mpox vaccine.

In France, health authorities reported 19 mpox positives in March, compared to three since the beginning of the year. Sixteen of those diagnoses were for gay men who had been fully or partially vaccinated.

The WHO reported a small rise in cases in the world’s Western Pacific region, including Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, Australia, and Singapore. Mexico reported 12 new mpox-related deaths. 

Those concerning numbers contrast with overall trends the WHO cited while lifting their emergency declaration. The number of cases has continued to decline since the early-August peak last year. Over the past three months, diagnoses fell by 90 percent, compared with the previous three months.  

Since mid-April, only 21 of the 111 nations that reported cases during the 2022 mpox outbreak have reported new mpox positives. The organization also lifted the global emergency declaration for COVID-19 last week.

In July 2022, when the WHO’s director general declared mpox a global emergency, the outbreak had grown to more than 16,000 cases and five deaths in 75 countries. The toll now stands at 87,000 cases, including 140 deaths. The outbreak primarily affected men who have sex with men.

But a year after the mpox virus emerged as a worldwide threat, some of the same conditions that stoked the first surge are aligning for a possible repeat performance.

“Without renewed vaccination and prevention efforts, we are at risk for a resurgence of mpox,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy coordinator of the White House national mpox response, told NBC News.

Summer weather in Europe and North America, along with Pride events scheduled worldwide over the coming months, duplicate those conditions. Last year’s outbreak followed large gatherings of men who have sex with men in Spain and Belgium, and was compounded by Pride parties occurring in June.

Chicago, which hosts the International Mr. Leather festival at the end of May, reported eight cases on Monday. All eight cases — seven among men — were mild, with none requiring treatment for pain. The vaccine likely reduces the severity of an infection, according to Dr. Leanna Gordon, the medical director of preventive medicine at Howard Brown Health, an LGBTQ+ clinic where the cases were diagnosed.

Still, “One of our major concerns is that our population at risk are under-vaccinated,” Gordon said. “We haven’t had as much interest in the vaccine as we would like.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only one in four people most at risk of contracting mpox, including gay and bi men and transgender people, have been fully vaccinated.

The agency estimates more than 1.2 million doses of the Jynneos vaccine have been administered in the U.S. to 725,000 people, 90% of them male.  

The CDC reports two doses of the Jynneos vaccine reduced the risk of mpox by 69%, while one dose was 37% effective.

Daskalakis said the uptick in mpox positives amounts to “a call to action as opposed to a call to panic.” 

“We have the tools to take care of this,” he said. “We just have to get it done.”

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