KRON 4: Sen. Padilla calls out racial, ethnic disparities in monkeypox response

By John Ferrannini

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) joined 11 of his colleagues in the United States Senate asking the heads of federal agencies to address racial disparities in the response to the monkeypox outbreak, according to a press release from his office.

The press release states that “this discrepancy in public health has been a serious cause for concern for health care workers as white men have been receiving a disproportionate amount of vaccinations while making up a smaller percentage of being at risk for monkeypox.”

The overwhelming majority of U.S. monkeypox cases are among men who have sex with men, but among those who’ve had the virus and for whom demographic information is available, racial and ethnic minorities are overrepresented. For example, according to San Francisco Department of Public Health data released Aug. 24, people who are Hispanic and/or Latino comprise 27.8% of the city’s reported cases, despite being 15.1% of the city’s population. A similar trend is underway in Santa Clara County, as KRON4 previously reported.

Nationwide, Black Americans made up 26%, and Latinos 32%, of monkeypox cases reported by the end of July, despite being 13% and 19% of the nation’s population, respectively.

The letter notes that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt disproportionately.

“Over time, federal, state, and local data showed that the majority of COVID-19 cases and fatalities affected people of color, with most illnesses and deaths occurring in regions with higher percentages of Black and Latino populations. Furthermore, vaccination rates initially lagged among these same communities,” the letter states. “Existing racial disparities and inequities in health outcomes and health care access often mean that the nation’s response to preventing and mitigating the harms of monkeypox will not be felt equally in every community.”

The letter was addressed to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. It was joined by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Symptoms of monkeypox include onset of flu-like symptoms and distinctive rashes or sores that could look like pimples or blisters. CDC statistics show the most commonly-reported symptoms are rash (99%), malaise (70%) and fever (64%).

The CDC stated August 6 that the most common places where rashes have been reported in this outbreak are genitals (46% of cases), arms (40%), face (38%) and legs (37%).

While the red, flat spots which become bumps can be anywhere on the body, they are most likely in the current outbreak to affect the genital or rectal areas, or the fingers, mouth or eyes. The spots become bumps, which break and crust over into a scab. They may be itchy, but not necessarily.

Further, some people only get one or some of these symptoms; it is possible to have a fever but never a rash, or have these symptoms sequentially and not concurrently.

What is the monkeypox vaccine?

The monkeypox virus is in the orthopoxvirus family alongside smallpox, for which routine vaccination in the U.S. ended in 1972 after the disease was declared eradicated here. Jynneos, a vaccine approved for both smallpox and monkeypox, is at least 85% effective against monkeypox, though its effectiveness reduces over time.

Getting the vaccine within 14 days of exposure can prevent or mitigate disease risk, as the incubation period can be weeks.

Healthcare providers should test for other infections with similar symptoms, such as syphilis. Tests for monkeypox are confirmed at specialized labs.

Side-effects of the vaccine could include redness, pain or swelling at the injection site, muscle pain, headache, fatigue and nausea.

Who can get a monkeypox infection?

According to CDC statistics released August 6, 99% of cases were in men, and 94% of cases were in men who reported having sex with men. Among those cases, the majority had reported multiple sexual partners in the prior three weeks. The virus is spread through close skin-on-skin contact and an adviser on sexually transmitted infections with the World Health Organization stated experts have not determined whether it is a sexually transmitted infection per se, though it is “clearly transmitted during sex.”

However, Noel Sanchez of the SFDPH cautioned that anyone could become infected with the monkeypox virus, and that it doesn’t necessarily require sexual contact to contract it.

“SFDPH takes monkeypox seriously,” Sanchez stated. “While most cases resolve on their own without pills or treatment, monkeypox can be serious. We are trying to contain outbreaks and reduce transmission to avoid the virus spreading to more people and potentially becoming endemic. To that end, we are doing education and outreach to communities most at risk; tracking monkeypox cases; distributing and administering vaccines as a preventative measure to people at high risk because of an exposure; and supporting testing and clinical guidance to providers, among other efforts.”

Sanchez advises people to cover exposed skin in crowds, avoid sharing bedding and clothing, talk with close physical and sexual contacts about health, rashes and sores, and be aware of symptoms.

Read the full article here.

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