Number of Monkeypox Cases in the Military Climbs Tenfold in Less than 4 Weeks

A registered pharmacist holds a bottle of monkeypox vaccine at a Pop-Up monkeypox vaccination site in California.
Registered pharmacist Sapana Patel holds a bottle of monkeypox vaccine at a Pop-Up monkeypox vaccination site on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, in West Hollywood, California (Richard Vogel/AP Photo)

The number of cases of monkeypox has climbed in the U.S. military to 40, 10 times the number it was less than four weeks ago.

Defense Department spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz said Friday the figure included 26 active-duty personnel. On July 8, the DoD had just four patients diagnosed with the virus.

The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday, a move that allows federal agencies to dedicate more money to fight the virus and accelerate vaccination efforts and treatment.

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"President Biden has called on us to explore every option on the table to combat the monkeypox outbreak and protect communities at risk," National Monkeypox Response Coordinator Robert Fenton said in a statement released by the White House.

More than 7,100 Americans have been diagnosed with monkeypox, also known as the  non-variola orthopoxvirus, since the global outbreak began in early May.

Monkeypox is a virus that spreads via contact and causes fever, chills and respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and nasal congestion, as well as painful lesions, or pox, which can last for several weeks.

It is far less contagious than COVID-19 or the influenza virus, spread mainly through direct contact with a person with the disease -- with their rash, scabs or body fluids or with objects or fabrics that have touched an infected person's lesions, scabs or fluids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The administration has received criticism that it has not moved swiftly enough to address the growing outbreak, having just named Fenton to his position Tuesday, along with Dr. Demetre Daskalakis as the White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator.

The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on July 23, and the states of New York, California and Illinois have all declared emergencies.

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra last month requesting the department's strategy for addressing monkeypox.

Burr on Thursday again implored Becerra to move more quickly, saying HHS is "failing in one of its core missions."  

"A communicable disease outbreak following so closely on the heels of COVID-19 should be met with a swift, decisive, and organized response. Instead, HHS is repeating the exact same mistakes they made during the pandemic: painfully slow to begin testing, wholly disorganized in distributing vaccines and treatments, and messaging that's confusing and outdated. HHS appears to have learned nothing from the tragedy of the last three years," Burr wrote in a letter to Becerra

As of late July, more than 14,000 cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed across the globe this year and there have been five deaths, according to World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

There are two vaccines for monkeypox: Jynneos, approved by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent monkeypox and smallpox, and ACAM2000, which is approved for smallpox but has been allowed to be used for monkeypox under an investigational drug designation.

But the vaccines are in short supply: The Department of Health and Human services did not order the number of doses of Jynneos estimated to be needed in the U.S. -- 3.5 million -- and instead has 1.1 million it is currently distributing.

And ACAM2000 comes with a stiff warning. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical advisor, said this week that the vaccine cannot be used in immunocompromised patients such as those with HIV, potentially causing serious harm or death.

About a third of people diagnosed with monkeypox in the U.S. have been HIV-positive.

“What happened by a quirk of fate, is that those people who were vulnerable to this, namely the men who have sex with men, many of them fell into the population, that it would be risky to give them the hundred million doses that we have at the tips of our fingers ready to go,” Fauci said on the podcast Science Vs, as reported by Newsweek. “So we had to rely on what was the backup vaccine – was Jynnneos. Which was the opposite of what the plan was.

The CDC recommends that those who have a confirmed exposure, as well as those with presumed exposure, be vaccinated. People who have had close physical contact with someone who has monkeypox, as well as gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals who have engaged in sex with multiple male partners in areas where monkeypox is spreading, should be vaccinated, according to CDC guidance.

The Defense Department also continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases: In the past month, 11,369 service members have contracted the coronavirus and 95 were hospitalized. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, 95 troops have died from COVID-19, but no deaths have occurred since April. An additional 417 civilian employees, 36 family members and 141 DoD contracted personnel also have died.

– Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime

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