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Monkeypox Cases May Be Leveling Off In LA, Health Officials Say

A long line of people wait in line beneath a scaffolding to receive the monkeypox vaccine
People wait in line to receive the monkeypox vaccine in Brooklyn, New York, in July.
(Kena Betancur
AFP via Getty Images)
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There are now more than 16,600 known monkeypox cases across the U.S., and the numbers are rising, as the country races to control the outbreak before the disease becomes entrenched. Cases have been reported in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. No deaths have been reported in the U.S.

One group to watch
  • Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, says a few factors make college campuses and college students a group health officials are watching closely as the monkeypox outbreak continues.

  • "In particular, with older teens and teens in general (who are) sexually active," he said. "The other issues is the close quarters."

  • And he also highlighted this complication: that some college students may not yet comfortable with their sexuality and may not seek out vaccines or treatment. Currently in the U.S. monkeypox is most prevalent in men who have sex with men

California and New York state both report more than 3,000 cumulative case counts, the highest in the country. Los Angeles County accounts for about 44% of California’s total.

Here in L.A., the monkeypox outbreak has grown to 1,349 people. That’s an increase of more than 300 people in less than a week, but that’s actually an improvement. A month ago, monkeypox cases in L.A. were doubling every nine days. Now, it takes 16 days for cases to double, indicating that new monkeypox cases may be leveling off.

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“We're being cautiously optimistic that this is going to be real and that it will hold,” Dr. Rita Singhal, chief medical officer for the L.A. County public health department, said at a press conference Thursday. “It's leveling off, I would not say that it's decreasing yet,” she added.

Similar trends are being noted in countries where the outbreak first began, and in other jurisdictions across the U.S., she said.

Why The Spread Is Slowing

Dr. Singhal pointed to three reasons why transmission may be beginning to slow: the increased availability of vaccines, men who have sex with men reportedly modifying their behavior to avoid high risk situations and how the virus spreads.

“It does not transmit as easily as COVID, it does require prolonged close contact,” Dr. Singhal said. “When you have an infectious agent like that, it is going to burn out faster when it's out in a community or among a group of people.”

Although anyone can contract monkeypox, gay and bisexual men who have had multiple sexual partners are at the highest risk in this outbreak, according to health authorities. L.A. County Public Health data shows that about 98% of the people who have tested positive are male, and 30- to 39-year-olds account for almost half of all cases.

While a large portion of monkeypox cases in the current outbreak are believed to have been contracted during sexual contact, the virus is not a sexually transmitted infection and can be spread through any prolonged contact with the skin, clothing or bedsheets of an infected individual.

A graphic listing 1,264 monkeypox cases in L.A. County, 68 cases in Long Beach and 17 cases in Pasadena.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

Recommended Prevention Measures

Health officials recommend avoiding close physical contact — both sexual and non-sexual — with people who have symptoms of an illness, sores, or rashes.

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It's also possible to be infected by someone who does not have sores or a rash. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a period of three to 17 days during which someone may be infected but has not yet developed symptoms.

Earlier this week, Public Health expanded monkeypox vaccine eligibility. The expanded criteria now includes people of any gender or sexual orientation who, in the past two weeks, had transactional sex in exchange for food, money, shelter or other goods. Also added are gay or bisexual men who recently had skin-to-skin or intimate contact, like hugging or kissing, at large venues or events.

The announcement opens the door to more women getting vaccinated — until recently only women who were close contacts qualified.

The Jynneos vaccine is still available to people who met the prior eligibility criteria, including men who have sex with men or a transgender person and who were diagnosed with gonorrhea or early syphilis in the past 12 months, are on HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or had anonymous sex or multiple partners within the past 21 days.

L.A. County received another 41,300 doses of the Jynneos vaccine this week. Eligible people can sign up for a vaccination here.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.

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