Dallas County declares monkeypox outbreak health emergency

Dallas County declares monkeypox outbreak health emergency

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a state of emergency Friday morning over the monkeypox outbreak as cases of the virus exceed 200.

The statement comes a day after the Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency amid a nationwide vaccine shortage. Dallas County accounts for the largest percentage of cases in the state, with 209 confirmed and 29 suspected cases as of Thursday.

Worried about monkey pox? Here’s what you need to know

“We will defeat monkeypox by tracing people who have been in contact with a person with monkeypox, testing them and getting the vaccine now to the most vulnerable populations,” Jenkins told a news conference.

The county health department recently expanded who is eligible for the monkeypox vaccine to include men who have sex with men who have had multiple or anonymous partners in the past two weeks. Initially, it was only available to those who had direct contact with an infected person. But the additional appointments are not yet enough to meet the demand.

Dallas County received a shipment of just over 5,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine last week.

Jenkins said the county will use the emergency declaration to try to get more doses of the vaccine, which are being distributed by the federal government. Unlike emergency declarations made during the COVID-19 pandemic, the monkeypox emergency declaration does not require any businesses to close.

“We trust businesses that are open every day, like clubs where people dance, to be responsible,” Jenkins said. “You can still go dancing, just make sure you keep your shirt on and limit skin-to-skin contact with strangers.”

Monkeypox, a virus similar to the now-extinct smallpox virus, is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact or contact with contaminated materials such as bedding or clothing. The virus causes flu-like symptoms and a blistering rash that may be located on or near the genitals.

Symptoms, which can be very painful, usually begin within three weeks of exposure to the virus. The illness usually lasts two to four weeks and is rarely fatal.

County health director Dr. Philip Huang said there have been some hospitalizations related to the current monkeypox outbreak, but he did not have an exact number. The majority of cases have occurred in men who have sex with men, although the virus can be transmitted to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

Huang urged people who are not at high risk for monkeypox not to try to get the vaccine.

“But if you are … in any of these high-risk groups, please contact us and get on our waiting list,” he said.

Dallas expands monkeypox vaccine eligibility, but some frustrated by limited access

Dallas County struggled with high call volumes Tuesday after expanding vaccine eligibility. Jenkins tweeted that callers to the monkeypox hotline may have to try multiple times to reach an operator.

The health department works with various community partners – including Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment and Prism Health North Texas – to distribute the limited vaccine doses.

Prism Health, an HIV/AIDS health care organization, opened appointments Wednesday for the 300 doses of vaccine it received from the county. Within an hour, every slot was filled, said CEO Dr. John Carlo.

In addition to vaccinations, public health measures such as social distancing and isolation if someone is infected with monkeypox can also help prevent the spread of the virus. During the news conference, Jenkins said he was concerned about large gatherings like festivals that could expose people most at risk of the virus.

At a Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, Huang asked commissioners if he could move $100,000 from his preventive health department to respond to the monkeypox outbreak. Commissioners unanimously approved the request.

The funds will help meet research, monitoring and staffing needs.

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