The Department of Health and Human Services announced plans on Wednesday to accelerate testing for monkeypox nationwide, while the World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting Thursday to decide whether the outbreak constitutes a global health emergency.
HHS said it will ship monkeypox testing kits to five commercial laboratory companies with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those companies are Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare.
U.S. health providers will be able to take advantage of the laboratories for monkeypox testing starting in July.
“This development will facilitate increased testing, leverage established relationships between clinics, hospitals and commercial laboratories, and support our ability to better understand the scope of the current monkeypox outbreak,” the HHS press release stated.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra assured Americans the country is prepared to combat the current outbreak.
“All Americans should be concerned about monkeypox cases. Thankfully we have right now the tools to fight and treat cases in America,” Becerra said in a statement. “By dramatically expanding the number of testing locations throughout the country, we are making it possible for anyone who needs to be tested to do so.”
Last week, the U.S. conducted 60 monkeypox tests per day, up from 10 tests per day earlier this month, a Biden administration official told The Washington Post.
This year’s monkeypox outbreak has spread across 42 countries with global cases at 3,308 as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. recorded 155 cases, most of which have been found in California.
The new U.S. testing effort comes as the WHO is reportedly considering declaring the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency, according to the Associated Press.
Some scientists see the move as a double standard, given that the WHO did not take such action for past outbreaks.
The first human cases of monkeypox were identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the disease has since been found in other countries around the world. In 2003, the U.S. experienced a monkeypox outbreak linked to infected pet prairie dogs that led to 70 cases, according to the WHO. More recently, in 2017, Nigeria experienced a large outbreak of monkeypox.
While at least three African countries have reported deaths from monkeypox this year, the current outbreak has not killed anyone outside of the African continent.
“If WHO was really worried about monkeypox spread, they could have convened their emergency committee years ago when it reemerged in Nigeria in 2017 and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who sits on several WHO advisory groups told AP. “It is a bit curious that WHO only called their experts when the disease showed up in white countries.”
Health authorities are still investigating transmission patterns, but men account for a large number of cases, according to the CDC.
“It’s not clear how the people were exposed to monkeypox, but early data suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases,” the CDC says on its website. “However, anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.”
The U.K. announced Tuesday it would offer a vaccine to some men who have sex with other men, according to AP, as the country has recorded 793 cases.