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As Texas monkeypox cases climb, CDC to make 1.8 million doses of vaccines available

A pharmacist injects a syringe into a vial.
The Associated Press
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The Associated Press
A pharmacist loads a syringe with monkeypox vaccine at a vaccination site in West Hollywood, California earlier this month. Texas and California are among the states with the most reported monkeypox cases.

The number of monkeypox cases in Texas has surpassed 1,000 — an increase of more than 50% since last week. The state’s count also includes Texas’ first presumptive pediatric case in Harris County.

Texas had slightly more than 700 cases of the virus last week, but the total has jumped to 1,078 as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the fourth-highest monkeypox caseload in the country after New York, California, and Florida.

The presumptive pediatric case was found in a child younger than 2-years old. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Tuesday that county officials are assuming the case is positive, Houston Public Media reported.

“We are still identifying how the child might have contracted monkeypox," Hidalgo said during a news conference, adding that it is a rare case.

“We always knew that any person in this community can contract monkeypox. We knew that it was possible for a child to be exposed. So, this isn't entirely unexpected,” she said.

While Dallas and Harris counties are Texas’ current hotspots, with about 350 cases each, infections have also been reported in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso within the last week. Travis County reported 93 cases as of Wednesday, with 20 reported in San Antonio, according to local health officials.

Monkeypox is generally associated with a rash that may be located on or near the genitals, anus, or areas like the hands, feet, face, mouth and chest, according to the CDC. Additional symptoms include fever and chills, swollen lymph nodes, muscle and back aches, exhaustion, headaches and congestion or a cough.

The Texas Department of State Health Services defines monkeypox as a “serious illness” that could lead to hospitalization.

“In recent years, the case fatality rate has been 3 to 6%, and the number of deaths from monkeypox disease has been higher in young children,” the Texas DSHS states.

As the virus spreads, some municipalities — including Austin and Dallas — have declared the illness a public health emergency. That is part of an effort to inform the federal government that those need additional vaccines to combat the spread, the Texas Tribune reported.

But more help could be on the way for the state’s hotspots after the White House announced Thursday that 1.8 million doses of the vaccines will be available for distribution by Monday. It follows the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization for intradermal injections of the vaccine, the White House said in a statement. That method, which administers the vaccine between layers of skin, allows for more doses to be administered.

“The action means that each vial of vaccine can be used for up to five doses, since the appropriate dose for intradermal administration is 0.1mL versus 0.5mL required per dose administered subcutaneously,” explained the statement.

Local governments that have adopted the intradermal method of vaccination and have used 90% of their current vaccine allotment will be able to order additional doses.

“The Administration is making these doses available ahead of schedule to encourage rapid distribution of vaccine to individuals at high risk of contracting the virus, particularly gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men,” the White House said.

As of last week, the Texas Department of State Health Services has shipped more than 16,340 vials of the vaccine to local governments and health regions. Distribution is based on the number of people at the greatest risk of exposure to the virus.

Dr. Jennifer Shuford, the state’s chief epidemiologist, recently told the Texas Standard that the spread is mainly being driven by skin-to-skin contact — most of which has occurred after a person has already experienced some symptoms.

Most people affected so far have been gay or bisexual men who have had sex or close contact with an infected individual, said Shuford. That’s led to doctors and authorities to warn against stigmatizing certain segments of the population and prompted officials to remind the public that anyone can catch the illness, such as the case in Houston with the young child.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.