Health Care

Biden officials to expand monkeypox testing amid fears of undercounting

FILE – This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. British health officials said they cannot tell if the spread of monkeypox has peaked in the country as they announced another 45 cases Friday, June 10, 2022. That makes for a total of 366 cases in the biggest-ever outbreak of the disease beyond Africa. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is expanding monkeypox testing to commercial laboratories amid fears that the country is undercounting monkeypox cases because of insufficient testing.  

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that it began shipping moneypox tests this week to five private testing companies: Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare. 

The testing through these companies will begin in early July, HHS said.  

“These commercial laboratories will dramatically expand testing capacity nationwide and make testing more convenient and accessible for patients and health care providers,” the department said.  

Some public health experts have warned that the U.S. risks repeating the mistakes of the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, when there was not enough testing to detect how widely the virus was really spreading.  

“Now the United States, once again, appears to be responding to a new health threat with an underpowered testing response,” Jennifer Nuzzo of Brown University and Jay Varma of Cornell University wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this week

There is already a network of public health labs across the country able to do monkeypox testing, but experts say that it will be easier for doctors to order tests from commercial laboratories where they have established relationships and can jump through fewer hoops, thereby encouraging more testing.  

“All Americans should be concerned about monkeypox cases. Thankfully we have right now the tools to fight and treat cases in America,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “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.”  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)reports about 150 monkeypox cases in the U.S. currently, though the actual number could be higher.  

Still, experts say there are important differences that mean that monkeypox is not simply a repeat of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

For one, it spread less easily. The CDC says it spreads through direct contact with rashes, through clothes or bed sheets that have been in contact with the rash, or through “prolonged, face-to-face contact.” 

“Monkeypox is rare and does not spread easily between people without close contact,” the CDC says. “The threat of monkeypox to the general U.S. population remains LOW.” 

Health officials are encouraging doctors to consider monkeypox testing if they see patients who have rashes that could be from monkeypox.  

Tags Joe Biden Xavier Becerra

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