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COVID-19 and monkeypox, case numbers, treatment options diverge widely in Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The World Health Organization has announced a second global health emergency due to the monkeypox outbreak, even as COVID-19 continues to infect people in the U.S. and around the world.

That designation comes after reports of more than 16,000 cases monkeypox cases in 70 countries.

Dr. Wes Stubblefield, of the Alabama Department of Public Health, spoke to News 19 Monday about the dual emergencies.

Stubblefield said the designation is contained in a global treaty involving some 300 nations and its aim is to spur a global effort at identifying and treating monkeypox cases and keeping a watch on the disease’s spread.

But there is a big difference in the status of the two viruses in Alabama. The state is averaging around 2,200 COVID-19 cases a day, while there are five reported monkeypox cases.

Health officials say monkeypox cases have generally occurred from contact with a person’s rash, that’s generally been from sexual contact, with men who identify as gay or bisexual. But Stubblefield says there have also been cases from household contact.

Health experts point out monkeypox Monkeypox has been around for many years, so why the new concern.

Stubblefield said most of the data suggests it’s a byproduct of globalization. As people travel the world, some viruses will follow. And it’s been endemic — found regularly —  in some parts of West Central Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

There are clearly differing effects of COVID-19 and monkeypox in Alabama.

COVID is still active in the community, there are well over 600 patients in the hospital statewide with covid, so it is affecting our hospitals it is affecting our communities, almost all of Alabama is in a high community transmission status,” Stubblefield said. “Monkeypox has a very particular course, you come into contact with the virus, the virus generally has a 1-to-3 week, what we call, an incubation period.”

Stubblefield said monkeypox symptoms begin as flu-like, including muscle aches and potentially a fever, then rash appears.

“It can be very severe and uncomfortable in some cases, particularly those who are immune-suppressed but for most people it’s a mild illness and resolves without treatment.”

What about a vaccine? Alabama has monkeypox vaccine, but It’s use is currently limited. There are no real limits on covid vaccines.

“Anyone six months and up can get a covid vaccine, there are very few exceptions, but that’s the case,” Stubblefield said. “With the monkeypox vaccine it’s not recommended for everyone, its recommended only for people who handle laboratory specimens, they can get that as a pre-exposure dose. And, people who have had a known exposure to a suspected or confirmed monkeypox case, who have not developed symptoms.”

There are fewer treatment options for monkeypox, TPOXX is an experimental drug being deployed sparingly at this point. There are more COVID-19 treatment options, Stubblefield said.

“This medication (TPOXX) has a lot of potential side effects, and it’s not for every patient, it’s only for very limited patients,” Stubblefield said. “With COVID-19 we continue to have the same treatments, with Paxlovid, the oral treatment. There’s IV treatments, that are available. And the covid, as opposed to monkeypox, covid vaccination and treatment are widely available.”

The exposure risks between the two viruses are considerably different, Stubblefield said.

“Covid spreads very easily from one person to another,” he said. “Monkeypox does not. Monkeypox really requires that close intimate physical contact. And so, we will see cases, we will probably see more, but it’s not going to be this explosion epidemic that we’ve seen with covid.”

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