Baltimore’s monkeypox emergency is over

Published on: March 09, 2023 3:18 PM EST|Updated on: March 09, 2023 4:22 PM EST

Baltimore Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa address the public during a press conference Tuesday Oct. 18, 2022.
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With no active cases of mpox — the disease formerly known as monkeypox — and low transmission for the past two months, Baltimore health officials have ended their emergency response to the outbreak.

The city reported 242 people had been infected with mpox since June. That was the most of any jurisdiction in Maryland. Health figures show there have been 743 cases across Maryland, and three people have died.

“Our effective response to the mpox outbreak was a collaborative effort that demonstrated the strength of our public health system,” said Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, city health commissioner, in a statement. “We are thrilled to see transmission rates remain low, and we want to assure Baltimore City residents that our services and resources are still available to them.”

The city’s step comes after the federal health authorities said they would not renew the public health emergency in January.

Those the most at risk locally and across the country — gay and bisexual men — were initially critical of the rollout of information and vaccines. Appointments for the two-shot regimen were initially hard to get, were available only for those with a direct exposure, and, in Maryland, required registration in a state-run system.

Health officials blamed low federal supplies for the slow vaccination effort. The state reports 9,813 people have now gotten the vaccine.

Officials, including those at the federal level, also initially said there was a need to proceed with sensitivity to avoid further stigmatizing the LGBTQ community. The majority of those infected in Maryland also were Black.

Eventually the city and others followed the lead of the World Health Organization and adopted the term mpox after the name monkeypox was considered derisive.

City officials said they no longer needed their Incident Command Structure, which is deployed during public health emergencies to allow staff to work outside their normal jobs to address the threat.

The city and state faced the outbreak of mpox last spring when travelers returned from Europe with infections. Mpox is not normally found in large numbers outside of African countries.

The cases set off a scramble among those in high-risk groups for protection from what can be a painful infection with a telltale rash that can last for weeks. Mpox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease but was being passed primarily among men who had sex with men because they were in close skin-to-skin contact or shared bedsheets.

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City health officials touted their response Wednesday to the emergency that many infectious disease experts feared could have been far worse. In the end, the infections came nowhere near the totals for COVID-19.

The officials said they worked with local advocacy groups and medical providers to ensure affected people got information about the virus, prevention and vaccine availability directly. They also hosted community conversations, distributed flyers, tapped social media and opened a vaccination clinic with online scheduling and eventually walk-in appointments.

Dzirasa said the health department plans to continue encouraging people to be vaccinated and will continue offering vaccinations through a partner, NOMI Health, which offers the shots at a downtown Baltimore clinic. For more information on mpox or to schedule a vaccine appointment, go to the health department website or call 443-438-6016.