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6 people hospitalized with monkeypox in Mecklenburg, county officials say

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Mecklenburg County
Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington gives an update to county commissioners Tuesday evening.

At least six people in Mecklenburg County have been hospitalized with monkeypox since the local outbreak started, county health officials said Tuesday.

The county's case total has risen to 115, including one case in someone under 18, according to county communicable disease director Joy Smith. The majority of cases, more than 80%, have been confirmed in Black men. No deaths were reported as of Tuesday.

Smith said data about hospitalizations is “preliminary.” When asked during a Tuesday news conference what data the county could share about the people going to the hospital, including whether they had underlying conditions, and what symptoms were sending people to the hospital, Smith responded she had heard about “some pain control issues.”

Monkeypox is a potentially serious viral illness that usually involves flu-like symptoms, swelling of the lymph nodes and a rash. It’s typically spread by skin-to-skin contact. Most infections last two to four weeks. The rash associated with monkeypox “may be painful or itchy,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“... We do know that a certain percentage of our cases are immunocompromised and that may be a factor (in hospitalization) as well,” Smith said.

The only drug available to treat monkeypox, tecovirimat, also called TPOXX, is now easier to access in Mecklenburg County, health officials said. Previously, it was incredibly difficult to obtain and just a fraction of patients were given it, as The New York Times reported. In Mecklenburg County, initially, only one provider offered it, according to Raynard Washington, the county's health director.

“TPOXX is available pretty readily locally,” Smith said, adding that the county health department is working with North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services to create a list of sites where the treatment is offered.

Mecklenburg County’s health department has also continued to vaccinate people at high risk of contracting monkeypox — using a new method, called intradermal vaccination, as of last week. The vaccine, called JYNNEOS, can prevent illness or lead to less severe symptoms if given within 14 days of when someone is exposed to monkeypox. It’s administered as a series of two doses spaced 28 days apart.

People at high risk for monkeypox include those who have been in close physical contact in the past 14 days with someone diagnosed with monkeypox or those who know their sexual partner was diagnosed with monkeypox. The high-risk criteria also include men who have sex with men, or transgender people, who have had multiple anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days.

The county health department set up several vaccination stations during Charlotte Pride weekend where, according to Washington, it administered 540 monkeypox vaccines. The waitlist for vaccines in the county, which at one point topped 1,000 people, had shrunk to around 660 people as of Tuesday, Washington said.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.