The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday announced plans to speed up testing for monkey pox nationwide, while the World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting on Thursday to decide whether the outbreak is a global health emergency.
HHS said it would send monkey test kits to five commercial lab companies with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those companies are Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare.
U.S. healthcare providers will be able to benefit from monkey poaching labs from July.
“This development will facilitate increased testing, leverage established relationships between clinics, hospitals and commercial laboratories, and support our ability to better understand the extent of the current monkey pox outbreak,” the HHS press release said.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra assured Americans that the country is ready to combat the current outbreak.
“All Americans should be concerned about cases of monkey pox. “Fortunately, we now have the tools to fight and deal with business in America,” Becerra said in a statement. “By dramatically expanding the number of test sites across the country, we are making it possible for anyone who needs to be tested to do so.”
Last week, the U.S. conducted 60 monkey test tests a day, up from 10 tests a day earlier this month, a Biden administration official told The Washington Post.
This year’s monkey pox outbreak has spread across 42 countries with global cases at 3,308 as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. recorded 155 cases, most of which were found in California.
The new US test effort comes because the WHO is apparently considering declaring the monkey pox outbreak a global health emergency, according to the Associated Press.
Some scientists see the move as a double standard, as the WHO has not taken such steps for previous outbreaks.
The first human cases of monkey pox were identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970, but the disease has since been found in other countries around the world. In 2003, the U.S. experienced a monkey pox outbreak related to infected pet prairie dogs that led to 70 cases, according to the WHO. More recently, in 2017, Nigeria experienced a major outbreak of monkey pox.
While at least three African countries have reported deaths due to monkey pox this year, the current outbreak has not killed anyone outside the African continent.
“If the WHO was really concerned about the spread of monkey pox, they could have convened their emergency committee years ago when it reappeared in Nigeria and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist sitting on several WHOs. advisory groups told Associated Press. “It is a bit curious that the WHO only called their experts when the disease appeared in white countries.”
Health authorities are still investigating transmission patterns, but men are responsible for a large number of cases, according to the CDC.
“It is not clear how the people were exposed to monkey pox, but early data suggest that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men make up a large number of cases,” the CDC said on its website. “However, anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkey pox is at risk.”
The UK announced on Tuesday that it would provide a vaccine to some men who have sex with other men, according to Associated Press, as the country recorded 793 cases.