Black men bear the brunt of Georgia's monkeypox outbreak

Cases of monkeypox are rising quickly in Georgia and around the United States. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of more than 10,000 confirmed monkeypox cases across the country.

Health experts stress that the virus can affect anyone who’s exposed. But nationally, so far, most cases continue to impact men who have sex with men.

That’s also the picture in Georgia, where CDC numbers show the state with at least 775 confirmed cases.

The state Department of Public Health released initial demographic data showing the virus is overwhelmingly affecting Black men, a fact advocates say echoes other health disparities in the state. 

Piedmont Atlanta Hospital Internal Medicine physician Dr. Melanie Thompson, who is also the principal investigator at the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta, says the case numbers are likely an undercount.

“I have heard a number of patients who simply say to me that they’re ashamed. That they didn’t want to come forward because of shame. Shame has no place in the practice of medicine. But unfortunately, historically, shame and stigma have a big place in obstructing our response to epidemics like HIV and, now, monkeypox,” Melanie Thompson told WABE’s All Things Considered.

Researchers at the Department of Public Health are working to process monkeypox case data.

DPH says a recent analysis found that 81% of 510 Georgia cases were among Black patients. That’s compared to 14% for whites and smaller rates for other racial and ethnic groups.

Monkeypox causes a painful skin rash, and in some cases, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and other flu-like symptoms.

It spreads mainly through skin-to-skin contact with someone who’s already infected. Sharing bedding or towels is also risky, according to the CDC

Federal officials estimate that up to 1.7 million Americans are at the highest risk from monkeypox.

And as the outbreak expands, demand for the Jynneos vaccine continues to outstrip supply across the Atlanta metro area.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced an Emergency Use Authorization for the treatment in an effort to boost the availability of vaccines in hard-hit areas.