The US recorded a record 1,424 cases of monkey pox on Monday, the highest number since the global outbreak first made its way to the United States in May. It comes as officials begin to express concern about the virus rampant on college campuses for the next semester.
Monday’s numbers bring America’s total number of cases to 8,934 — putting the US on track to be the first nation to eclipse 9,000 confirmed infections when officials report new numbers on Tuesday. It is likely that these numbers are a serious undercount due to the lack of testing.
This outbreak could also get worse soon. The new school year starts in the coming weeks at colleges and universities in the US. Young college students are more likely to engage in careless sexual behavior, creating a perfect storm for potential monkeypox outbreaks across the country.
Also, unlike Covid in 2020, many universities do not have specific response plans to the virus, making rampant spread even more likely once the virus is introduced to campus.
“As we move into the fall, I’m concerned about outbreaks on college campuses because this is often a place where individuals engage in higher-risk sexual activities and interact closely with many different people,” Dr. Rachel Cox, an assistant professor at the Mass General Health Institute of Health Professionals, told CNN.
“We need to make sure that we can allocate resources, such as tests, vaccines and antivirals, to places that could become hot spots.”
However, not all experts believe that the outbreak will absolutely spiral out of control.
dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration and current board member at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that, while difficult, it is possible to prevent monkeypox from becoming an endemic virus – a potential official likely to fail with Covid.
Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb (pictured) told CBS’ Face the Nation that the monkeypox outbreak in America can still be contained
However, he says the response to the virus needs to be broader to get it under control. At present, testing is primarily reserved for gay and bisexual men only – making up an overwhelming majority of cases. Gottlieb believes more cases would be found if testing expanded beyond that community.
“There is an opportunity to get this back in the box, but it will be very difficult at this point,” Gottlieb said.
“We continue to look for cases in the community of men having sex with men, it’s mainly spreading in that community, but there’s no doubt that it’s spread beyond that community at this point and I think we need to look for it.” broader to cases.’
While exact federal data isn’t available, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at a briefing last week that they still make up a majority of cases.
However, America is currently struggling with a shortage of both tests and vaccines, which means that until now they have been reserved for men who have sex with other men.
The CDC has greatly expanded its testing capacity in recent weeks and can now perform 80,000 per week through its own testing and agreements with private partners.
Last week, Walensky said only about ten percent of America’s testing capacity was being used, opening the door to significant expansions in the number of people who should be tested.
Gottlieb said any person with an atypical case of shingles or herpes should be tested for monkey pox at this time.
Expanding testing will either find more cases — giving officials more information they can use to control the outbreak — or confirm more people as negative and confirm areas where the virus is not spreading.
He also believes the CDC should start monitoring the wastewater — which can provide more general pictures of where the virus is spreading without individual testing.
Despite his concerns, Gottlieb doesn’t think the virus has reached a point where the average American should be concerned.
“I don’t think this is something people generally need to worry about,” he explained.
“I think the incidence of this infection in the wider community is still very low. Your risk of contacting monkeypox is still extremely low outside of certain social networks where you see a higher number of cases.
“If you want to contain it … we have to look more broadly.”