Dallas County declares monkeypox outbreak a health emergency

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

The announcement comes a day after the Biden administration declared monkeypox a federal public health emergency amid a nationwide vaccine shortage. Dallas County represents the largest number 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’re going to 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 said at a news conference.

The county’s 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 had been available only to those who had direct contact with an infected individual. But the additional appointments are still not enough to meet the demands.

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’re trusting the businesses that are open every day like the clubs where people dance to be held accountable,” Jenkins said. “You can still dance, just make sure you have 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 can 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.

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

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

“But if you are … in any of those high-risk groups, please then 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 people who call the monkeypox hotline may need to try several times to get through to an operator.

The health department is working with several community partners — including Prosperity Abounding, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment and Prism Health North Texas — to distribute limited doses of the vaccine.

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

Beyond vaccinations, public health measures such as social distancing and isolation if someone is infected with monkeypox can also help prevent the virus from spreading. During the press conference, Jenkins said he was concerned about large gatherings like festivals that could expose people who are most at risk from the virus.

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

Funds will help cover investigative, monitoring and staffing needs.

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