With multiple monkeypox cases in Louisiana, here is who's being prioritized for the vaccine
The Louisiana Department of Health is making its limited supply of monkeypox vaccine available to men who have had sex with at least two men in the past 14 days or who have had sex with an anonymous male partner.
Men who have “intimate” contact with men in a social venue or sex club as well as men who have been paid to have sex with men or paid for sex with men in the past two weeks are also authorized to be vaccinated, officials said.
This is in addition to all people who – regardless of sexual history – are notified by public health contact tracers that they have had a “known exposure” to a person with monkeypox.
Monkeypox can be spread through sexual contact, but is also transmitted through less intimate ways. It can be transferred through hugging, kissing, massaging and talking face-to-face for a prolonged period of time with someone who has active symptoms. Contact with clothing, bedding, utensils and surfaces touched by someone with active symptoms can also result in an infection.
Health experts emphasize that everyone – not just men who have sex with men – can contract the virus. No one has died from monkeypox in the United States, where officials say the risk of fatalities is extremely low, but the illness can be very painful and cause scarring.
“There’s nothing unique that makes monkeypox a problem for [men who have sex with men]. It just got introduced into their community first,” said Susan Hassig, an associate professor in the epidemiology department at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
“If I were a housekeeper at any hotel in the United States, I would be thinking about what [hotels] should be doing to lower my risk of monkeypox exposure,” Hassig said.
Only people with active symptoms are contagious, though monkeypox is often mistaken for sexually transmitted infections or chickenpox.
The health department has focused its initial vaccine resources on men who have sex with men because “limited data” from the state’s monkeypox cases and information from around the country indicate those people are at highest risk for contracting the virus.
As of Thursday, Louisiana has identified 17 monkeypox cases in the state, though health officials warn it is likely a severe undercount of infections. At least a third of the cases are from New Orleans or surrounding parishes.
Monkeypox symptoms are flu-like and involve the swelling of the lymph-nodes as well as a rash that can include painful scabs. The rash can appear on the face, hands, feet, chest or genitals. It can also be inside the mouth, vagina or anus.
The illness lasts from two to four weeks. Until new skin has grown over the rash and scabs have fallen off, a person is still contagious, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Louisiana and federal officials have ramped up capacity for monkeypox testing, though the tests are only effective on people who have the rash or lesions on their body. The state health department said tests should be available through many health care providers and public health clinics.
Louisiana has a relatively small supply of the monkeypox vaccine, just 1,048 doses so far. That’s enough to treat a little over 500 people because each person is supposed to receive two doses 28 days apart.
The state expects to receive an additional 973 doses shortly from the federal government, though that still won’t be enough to launch a wider vaccine campaign like the health department desires.
“We are fiercely advocating with the CDC for additional, larger allocations of monkeypox vaccine in the future so we can keep our at-risk communities safe,” said Ally Neel, a state health department spokesperson.
People infected with monkeypox are eligible for antiviral treatment that can lessen symptoms if they have a severe case or are considered at risk for severe infection. Government officials will make the antiviral medication available to doctors and other healthcare providers upon request, Neel said.
CrescentCare, a leading health care provider for the LGBTQ community in New Orleans, declined to comment for this article.