Mpox has not gone away. Rates are increasing in one of the most gay-friendly states in the US and research from the UK suggests the virus is evolving to become more infectious.
California’s public health department says it’s now seeing 17 new cases a week, up from less than seven a week in August. On October 30, it issued an alert to healthcare providers to remain vigilant to mpox.
Before spring 2022, cases of mpox (formerly called monkeypox) were very rare in the US and Europe. However, thousands of cases were diagnosed that year, and the vast majority were in gay and bisexual men.
The outbreak decreased significantly late last year but people continue to get infected. And now it seems to be increasing, at least in California.
“We are beginning to see an uptick in mpox cases across the state. With this, we are reminding and encouraging all Californians to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mpox and to take preventive measures, including vaccination, to protect against severe illness,” stated Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, the state’s public health director.
“Mpox began circulating in California in the spring of 2022, and while cases have been low since its initial emergence thanks to education and community vaccination efforts, mpox can seriously impact individuals who test positive.”
Health officials say a double dose of the mpox vaccine, around a month apart, offers the best protection against the virus. No vaccine is perfect and some people may still develop the illness, but symptoms are likely to be far less severe than not having the vaccine at all.
According to the Bay Area Reporter though, around 40% of people who got their first shot of vaccine didn’t go back for their second.
“The vaccine reduces the risk of infection, and significantly reduces the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” a statement from the San Francisco Department of Health states “We encourage anyone who wants protection to complete the two-dose vaccine series. It’s never too late to get your second dose.”
Since the start of the outbreak in 2022, the CDC says there have been over 31,000 cases in the US and 55 deaths. Many of the deaths were in people who are immunocompromised.
In 2023, there have been 935 cases in the US.
In a separate mpox development, a report in Science by researchers from the University of Edinburgh has suggested the virus is mutating rapidly.
Before the 2022 outbreak, human cases of mpox were mainly due to animal transmission. The researchers believe the explosion in human-to-human transmission is impacting the way the virus evolves.
They suggest the specific mpox virus that fueled last year’s outbreak may have been around since around 2016. They now believe the virus may become more transmissable.
They said they had observed mutations around one specific part of the virus’s genetic code. This is the same part targeted by an enzyme in the human immune system. The enzyme stops the virus from replicating. Therefore, if a mutation occurs that makes the virus more resistant to this enzyme, it could become stronger and more infectious.
Once again, the advice remains the same: Speak to your healthcare provider and get both shots of the vaccine to minimize your chances of falling ill.