Monkeypox disproportionately affecting Black men
New data from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) shows that an overwhelming number of Black people are being infected by Monkeypox in Georgia compared to other races. This finding was not anticipated just a few weeks ago when the infection rate was much lower in the state.
The virus is being spread primarily through prolonged skin-to-skin contact. Touching items that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids is one-way monkeypox spreads, but DPH said in a statement that that has not been identified as a meaningful or common mode of transmission in this outbreak or for monkeypox in general.
While nearly all cases to date have been among men who have sex with men, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), health authorities emphasize anyone can catch monkeypox. The health officials also say the virus could begin to spread more broadly as the CDC confirmed the first U.S. cases of monkeypox in children, which they say are likely the result of household transmission.
Data from DPH that is available for 74% of the cases show the following racial breakdown: 82% Black people, 14% white, under 1% Asian; multiracial and “other” accounted for a total of about 3%. The data also noted that 6% of the cases are among Hispanic people.
Dr. Jonathan Colasanti, an infectious disease specialist, says it’s important people know the virus is most heavily affecting communities of color — and that those already infected have access to testing, treatment, and vaccines.
Colasanti, who is also the medical director of Grady Memorial Hospital’s Ponce De Leon Center, a comprehensive program dedicated to serving those living with or affected by HIV said, “A few weeks ago when this was circulating in Europe, this wasn’t even being talked about in our communities of color. And I think there was an initial perception that this was in, largely white communities and white, gay, and MSM (men having sex with men) communities. But I just want our folks here at home to know that that’s absolutely not the case. … And at this point in Atlanta, (monkeypox is) very heavily concentrated within communities of color, based on the early epidemiologic data we have.”
By Tuesday, confirmed cases in Georgia had climbed to 625, according to DPH. The actual number is likely far higher. “We see that kind of disparity across all health outcomes when it comes to African Americans. Health equity is just not there. It’s because we don’t access services for a myriad of reasons, we’re distrusting of the health community. So, even with the vaccinations, there are people who are undecided,” said Nathan Townsend, manager of prevention services for NAESM, an organization that works to address health issues of gay Black men.
Townsend, who is Black, has been working to get individuals vaccinated against monkeypox. For him, it was no surprise that most of the state’s monkeypox patients are Black. He says that because of this, local health departments have taken steps to ensure that at-risk populations receive vaccines.
“They have isolated certain days for community-based organizations who have access to high-risk populations to enroll their people, so they don’t have to go to mass vaccination clinics or go on-site and not be able to enroll … which ensures that we’re reaching high-risk populations,” said Townsend.
According to a CDC report based on available monkeypox case data, more than half of the cases (54%) were among Hispanic and Black people, a group that represents about a third of the general U.S. population. Different infection patterns are taking shape across the country. In New York City, according to the city health department, 30% of cases are among white people, 19% among Hispanic people, and 11% are among Black people. In 35% of cases, the race is unknown.
In Georgia, the overwhelming majority of cases are in metro Atlanta, but cases have been diagnosed in 25 counties outside metro Atlanta. Nearly 99% of the cases are among men, and the majority of the cases are among men who have sex with men, according to DPH. The age range is 18 to 66, with a median age of 34.
Monkeypox vaccines in Georgia can’t keep up with soaring demand. In response, Georgia DPH has added more information about county health departments offering the vaccine on its website, but available appointments are filling up within hours, sometimes minutes.
Georgia was allocated 47,996 vaccines and has ordered 25,782 vaccines from its allocation, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Georgia must wait until August 15 to place its next order, which will be for 10,236 doses. After that, Georgia will have to wait for the go-ahead from the federal department of Health and Human Services to order the remaining doses.