Louisiana has 1,049 doses of the monkeypox vaccine on hand to help combat a viral outbreak that is accelerating nationwide and has already made its way to southeast Louisiana.
Each person treated with the monkeypox vaccine must receive two doses of the medication, meaning Louisiana’s current number of doses is sufficient to care for just over 500 people. Nine days ago, health officer Dr. Joe Kanter said the state had just 20 doses of the vaccine before the first monkeypox case in Louisiana was identified.
As of Friday, Louisiana’s health department had identified six cases of monkeypox in the region that includes Orleans, Plaquemines, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. Infections haven’t been reported in other parts of the state yet.
Health officials warn the virus has likely spread in Louisiana far more than those six cases indicate. Monkeypox testing was extremely limited until recently. Even now, it’s only available for people who have active cases. Those who are infected and asymptomatic can’t be flagged, according to The New York Times.
Monkeypox can be a serious illness that sometimes involves the swelling of lymph nodes and fluid-filled bumps that turn into scabs. Health officials said the virus feels like the flu and lasts between two and four weeks. It is often mistaken for a sexually transmitted infection or chickenpox, according to health officials.
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The monkeypox virus spreads through direct contact with someone who is infected or through contact with their personal items such as bedding or clothes. It has mostly been diagnosed in men who have sex with other men, but health officials have emphasized that everyone is vulnerable to infection.
With few vaccine doses available, the state is reserving them for people who have had direct contact with someone infected with monkeypox.
Health officials said it is a “high priority” to run a preventative vaccination program for people who are high-risk for monkeypox, but Louisiana needs to receive more doses from the federal government to do so.
“We are developing our distribution plan for this initial allocation. We hope there will be additional larger allocations soon,” Kevin Litten, a health department spokesman, said in an email Friday.
Across the United States, demand for monkeypox vaccine is significantly outpacing the supply, especially in New York and California. The federal government has distributed 132,000 doses to health departments across the country based on each state’s number of cases and the number of residents thought to be at higher risk of catching the virus, according to The Associated Press.
President Joe Biden’s administration has ordered millions more vaccine doses from the Danish drug company that makes it, but much of the shipment won’t arrive until later this year, The New York Times reports.
An older vaccine for smallpox can also be used to prevent monkeypox. The federal government has a greater supply of it, according to an AP report, but it also carries a greater risk of side effects. Health officials have been reluctant to use it so far.
Louisiana plans to update its count of monkeypox cases on a daily basis on a new webpage that went public Friday. Local parish health units (more information is available on this webpage) can provide help with monkeypox testing for those who need it.
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