U.S. ramps up testing for monkeypox

The CDC is sending tests to five large laboratories. More than 150 cases have been reported in the United States.

President Biden’s administration said it is going to “dramatically expand testing capacity” for monkeypox.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week began sending monkeypox tests to five commercial laboratories: Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics, and Sonic Healthcare.

Healthcare providers will be able to use those labs for monkeypox tests in early July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says. Testing capacity should accelerate through the month, the department said in a news release.

The move comes amid growing concern about monkeypox and some criticism that the federal government hasn’t acted aggressively enough to address the threat.

Through Wednesday, June 22, there were 156 reported monkeypox cases in the United States. Cases have been reported in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

The World Health Organization was expected to decide Thursday if monkeypox should be declared a global health emergency.

In addition to shipping tests to the large private laboratories, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it has expanded capacity within the public health Laboratory Response Network. Public laboratories within the network can now process 8,000 tests per week, the department said.

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

Since the start of 2022, monkeypox, normally found in Africa, has spread more widely.

More than 3,000 suspected cases have been reported in 40 countries, Reuters reports. Many of the reported cases involved men who have had sex with men, the news outlet reported. Most cases have been found in Europe, including nearly 800 in the United Kingdom, more than 500 in Germany and more than 500 in Spain.

In Africa, nearly 1,600 cases have been reported, along with 66 fatalities, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, federal officials say. It does not spread easily without close contact, and the CDC has said the threat to the U.S. population is low.

Vaccines are available to treat monkeypox. Symptoms of monkeypox are similar, but milder, than smallpox, which was declared eradicated in 1980.

Symptoms include fever, aches and a rash that appears like pimples or blisters, the CDC says.

The CDC drew scrutiny earlier this month when it advised travelers to consider wearing masks to protect themselves against monkeypox, and then later deleted that recommendation, The New York Times reported.

The agency said it wanted to avoid confusing the public and stressed transmission typically occurs with close contact, but experts say airborne transmission, though rare, is possible, The Times reported.

The health department is urging healthcare providers to consider testing patients for monkeypox if they display any rash “with clinical suspicion for monkeypox,” the agency said in a news release. They should also evaluate and consider testing patients with rashes that are similar to more common infections, such as herpes or syphilis.

Anyone with risk factors for monkeypox and a new rash should visit a healthcare provider, the health department said.