With summer festivals and gatherings on the horizon, the Centers for Disease Control is raising the alarm about a possible resurgence of mpox, a virus that disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men last year.
“The spring and summer season in 2023 could lead to a resurgence of mpox as people gather for festivals and other events,” the agency wrote in a health alert.
Last summer, the world saw an initial outbreak of the virus, with more than 30,000 cases reported in the United States over the past year, according to the CDC. The first case of mpox in the US was reported in May in Boston; in August 2022, the virus peaked and spread to other parts of the country.
By early 2023, the US outbreak had mostly abated; however, large gatherings, which can be hubs for the spread of viruses and other diseases, raise concerns about a possible resurgence this spring and summer, said Dr. Minji Kang, an infectious disease expert at UT Southwestern.
A recently reported “cluster of mpox cases” in Chicago is raising concerns of a summer spread. While no patients were hospitalized, other cities may face a similar trend, Kang said.
“The concern is that with the arrival of Pride Month and an increase in festivals, there will be a resurgence in mpox cases,” he said.
According to the CDC, men who have sex with other men made up the majority of mpox cases last year. However, the disease can affect anyone regardless of their sexual orientation.
“Anyone who is at risk would be anyone who is in contact with another person who has mpox,” Kang said.
Unlike COVID, mpox is not a seasonal virus that emerges during certain times of the year. A possible spread of summer is only related to an increase in the number of festivals scheduled, which often draw crowds of people, Kang noted.
Mpox, formerly known as “monkeypox”, changed its name in late 2022.
Last November, the WHO phased out the term monkeypox because of its relationship to “racist and stigmatizing language online.” Also, monkeys are not the main source of spread of the virus.
Mpox is a cousin of smallpox, and both viruses cause rashes on the skin and in the mouth. Other symptoms include fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes, and the illness usually lasts one to three weeks. It is mainly spread by prolonged skin-to-skin contact, which includes hugging, sleeping in the same bed, or sexual activity.
It can also be spread by direct contact with scabs, rashes, or respiratory secretions from a person infected with mpox. Mpox contagion through indirect contact with fomites, including clothing, bedding, and towels, is low.
Additionally, the virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to a fetus through the placenta, according to the CDC.
Scientists are still investigating how often the virus can spread when someone is not showing symptoms. The new data from February found that mpox can be transmitted four days before symptoms appear.
If you’re at risk for mpox and haven’t yet been vaccinated, it might be time to roll up your sleeves.
The CDC advises doctors to be alert to mpox and to encourage their at-risk patients to get vaccinated. Only 23% of the estimated population at risk have been fully vaccinated, which is still below the rate of vaccine-induced immunity.
“The mpox vaccine is supposed to be free to anyone who wants it, and it’s easy,” Kang said. “It is available through health departments and various clinics.”
The JYNNEOS vaccine is a series of two doses taken one month apart and provides immunity against mpox and smallpox infections. Vaccinated persons should continue to avoid direct contact with a previously infected person.
“The vaccine can definitely be helpful in reducing the risk and severity of the disease if you get it,” Kang said.
However, the general population should not worry about contracting the disease this summer, Kang said.
“I think it’s important to note that overall the threat to the general population is low,” he said. “But I think we want communities that have been disproportionately affected by impacts during this outbreak to be aware.”