Virginia reports first monkeypox death

Health experts renaming monkeypox ‘mpox’ in line with World Health Org recommendation

By: - December 1, 2022 3:29 pm

This digitally-colorized electron microscopic (EM) image depicted monkeypox virus particles, obtained from a clinical sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. It was a thin section image from of a human skin sample. On the left were mature, oval-shaped virus particles, and on the right were the crescents, and spherical particles of immature virions. (CDC / Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regnery, Hannah Bullock

Virginia reported its first death from monkeypox Thursday, one of only 15 that have occurred nationwide since the most recent outbreak began in May.

The Virginia Department of Health said the deceased was an adult resident of the Eastern Health Region, an area encompassing Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore and the upper peninsulas. No other information is being released. 

The death comes as monkeypox, now known as mpox following a World Health Organization recommendation, continues to decline nationwide. 

Why is the U.S. shifting away from ‘monkeypox’ to ‘mpox’? 

On Nov. 28, the World Health Organization, which is responsible for assigning names to new and some existing diseases, recommended that “monkeypox” be phased out in favor of “mpox” over the next year. 

“When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings and in some communities was observed and reported,” the WHO wrote in an announcement of the change. “In several meetings, public and private, a number of individuals and countries raised concerns and asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name.” 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is in the process of updating its web pages to reflect the new terminology.

A virus that can cause fever, chills and, most prominently, a painful or itchy rash, mpox is spread through close contact. Cases in the current global outbreak have disproportionately occurred among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. 

In Virginia, 558 cases have been confirmed by VDH since the state announced its first presumed case May 26. Cases peaked this August, with VDH data showing 63 confirmations in the week ending Aug. 13 and 55 in the week ending Aug. 27. 

“The overall epidemiological curve … definitely has trended downward pretty steadily since the late summer,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, deputy state epidemiologist and deputy director of Virginia’s Office of Epidemiology. “In recent weeks, the case counts have been quite low. And that’s true nationwide.”

Over 94% of Virginia mpox cases have been among men. Over three-quarters have affected people between the ages of 20 and 39. Black people have been the most impacted racial/ethnic group, representing 44% of Virginia cases, followed by white people, at 25%. 

“Relatively speaking, there have been a small number of deaths compared to the number of cases,” said Forlano.

Vaccination

The primary vaccine being used to inoculate people against mpox is the two-dose Jynneos, developed by a Danish manufacturer to treat smallpox. 

Since the beginning of the current outbreak, Virginia has loosened eligibility rules for the vaccine as the federal government has pushed more Jynneos to the state. Initially, the vaccine was only available through local health departments to people who had been exposed to the virus or were close contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases. 

Most recently, VDH made the vaccine available to people of any sexual orientation or gender who have had anonymous or multiple sexual partners in the prior two weeks, sex workers and staff at establishments where sexual activity occurs. 

“In the beginning with something like this, particularly when there’s some limitation on supply, public health needs to focus the vaccine effort on those who are at highest risk of illness and/or severe complications from the disease,” said Forlano. “As that supply and demand curve settled out, we were able to expand it.”

Forlano said she believes Virginia currently has sufficient Jynneos supply to meet demand. 

Vaccination numbers have also declined in recent months along with case numbers.

According to VDH, anyone exposed to mpox should be vaccinated as soon as possible. The agency operates a dedicated website on the virus here.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]

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