Over the last two weeks Oregon has seen an increase in cases of mpox. Health officials believe complacency, and a lack of public knowledge about how to prevent the spread of the virus has led to the increase.
Mpox was formerly known as monkeypox. The World Health Organization changed the name this week in response to concerns that the term monkeypox is stigmatizing and discriminatory. The Oregon Health Advisory says mpox cases in the state peaked in early August with around a dozen cases reported each week, before significantly dropping to just a few reported cases each week. Dr. Timothy Menza, OHA’s senior health advisor for the mpox response, said numbers have risen again this month. From Nov. 9 to Nov. 23, 19 new cases were reported.
“We’re thinking that vaccine really sustained this decrease in cases,” Menza said. “But at the same time as the number of cases has waned, so has concern and awareness.”
Oregon now has 259 recorded mpox cases, including two pediatric cases.
Mpox is spread through skin-to-skin contact — especially intimate contact — leading to particularly high rates in certain geographic areas and demographics. Infection rates are highest in Multnomah County — among those aged 30 to 39, and members of the Latinx and Black communities. A significant number of cases were in people who identify as gay or bisexual men.
A vaccine is available, but health officials believe there are many people who would benefit from the vaccine who have not received it or have not received the recommended second dose.
Recently Oregon public health officials have begun calling or texting people who received the first dose of the mpox vaccine to encourage and help them get a second dose. So far, around 11,000 first doses of the vaccine have been administered in the state, but just 6,000 second doses.
“One of the biggest barriers that we’ve been hearing from people is that they didn’t know that the vaccine was available, or that they didn’t know how to get vaccinated,” he said.
Anyone who anticipates having, or has had, direct skin-to-skin contact with more than one other person and are aware of mpox in their social circles or communities, meets criteria to receive a vaccine.
“In light of the increase in cases, we’re actually encouraging providers to provide the vaccine to anyone who requests it,” Menza said.
Health officials are in contact with the Oregon Board of Pharmacy to get the vaccine into drug stores and have it emphasized as part of sexual healthcare.
”There has been a few smaller pharmacies that have started to work with their local public health agencies to provide vaccines in their pharmacies,” Menza said. “We haven’t seen as much vaccine uptake in larger pharmacies or chain pharmacies at this point in time.”
Mpox is a virus similar to smallpox. The strain found in the US has a relatively low transmission rate and is less severe.
Symptoms typically start with fever, chills and swollen glands. Within five days, a rash appears that can look like acne, but eventually can fill with fluid before scabbing. It usually takes two to four weeks to heal over with fresh skin.
No deaths have been attributed to the disease in Oregon, and deaths from the disease in the U.S. are extremely rare.
People who suspect they have mpox should contact their health care provider to let them know before going in to be seen.
Correction: This article has been updated to correctly define the criteria for receiving a mpox vaccine. OPB regrets the error.