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Osterholm on monkeypox: "As much as many people don't want to accept this, it is primarily an STI"

MINNEAPOLIS — As the monkeypox virus quickly spreads in the U.S., President Biden has appointed a White House coordinator to oversee the response. Daily cases are doubling roughly every week, and have surpassed 6,300 total across 48 states. As of Wednesday, the state of Minnesota had logged 39 cases total.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, joined CBS Mornings on Wednesday to discuss where the cases are occurring and the issues with supplying vaccines.

“As much as many people don’t want to accept this, it is primarily a sexually transmitted infection, just like herpes or syphilis,” Osterholm said. “But not everyone gets it from sexually transmitted routes — for example, if you do have contaminated bedding or towels, or even physical contact.”

Osterholm said that, as of now, the outbreak is largely affecting a limited group of “highly sexually active gay men,” and added that many gay men are at low risk for contracting the virus. This as many in the LGBTQ+ community point out the risk of ostracization from the overall messaging on monkeypox.

“From a public health standpoint, our job is to call balls and strikes, just tell it like it is. If you look today at the best data we have on sexual practices across both heterosexual and gay populations, we see in the United States that about 52% of gay men have between zero and 11 partners in their lifetime. But there, on the upper end of that scale, 10% that have more than 101, and about 1.9% that have more than 400 partners over a lifetime,” Osterholm said. “When you look at those risks, it’s much, much, much, much higher in that group that’s having a large number of partners.”

READ MORE: 39 cases of monkeypox confirmed in Minnesota, vaccine supply limited

Osterholm said that a recent study found that nearly half of those who have tested positive for monkeypox have participated in group sex during the time that they likely became infected.

“We have to emphasize that. Why? Because we do have a major shortage of vaccines. Remember the whole world wants this right now. The United States is not even leading in terms of numbers. Spain has five times as many cases per population as we do. The United Kingdom twice as many,” Osterholm said. “We’ve got to get (the vaccine) to those at highest risk.”

Osterholm gave credit to the U.S. for working, over the last decade, to develop a vaccine for monkeypox, and recognizing the need for it, whereas “the rest of the world didn’t participate in that.”

He said that the main issue with distributing the vaccine is that we don’t have the manufacturing capacity in place to get shots sent across the globe.

“Ninety countries right now have cases with this, all wanting the same vaccine that we want. And that is why as a country we have got to get together the gay community, medical leaders, public health leaders from the local area to decide, if I only have 2,000 doses of vaccine and I’ve got 8,000 people who need it, how are we going to get that out? Who gets prioritized? That’s going to be with us for months to come, don’t expect anything to the contrary,” Osterholm said.

Many who have had monkeypox have said the pain is worse than you can imagine. Osterholm said that the upside is that there are very few recorded local cases that have resulted in death.

“The other good news is, unlike all the other infections we deal with that are transmitted sexually, this one, once you get over it in about three weeks, you actually have good immunity. You don’t need to be treated, you’re done, you’ve really got good protection” Osterholm said.

Source: CBS Minnesota

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