Monkeypox cases are 'skyrocketing' in Georgia and across the country, public health experts say

FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. U.S. health officials are expanding the group of people recommended to get vaccinated against the monkeypox virus. They also say they are providing more monkeypox vaccine, working to expand testing, and taking other steps to try to get ahead of the outbreak. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, file)

Some members of Atlanta's LGBTQ community are angry and frustrated about the explosion of monkeypox cases.

The disease is believed to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets in human-to-human contact. Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required.

The illness lasts about two to four weeks and is rarely fatal.

People diagnosed with the disease shared their experiences recently at a town hall meeting hosted by the Fulton County Board of Health and Atlanta Pride.

The Fulton County Board of Health's sexual health promotion director, Joshua O'Neal, said the point of the town hall was to avoid fear-based messaging when it comes to monkeypox.

"We're trying to embrace sex and sexuality to try to achieve sexual health and not (trying) to police people's sexuality here," he said.

The county had enough vaccine doses for 300 appointment slots, all of which were filled within four minutes once they became available online, O'Neal said.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said last week that the state had 3,000 doses, which would vaccinate 1,500 people. The DPH said only high-risk individuals would be eligible for immediate vaccination.

"If you are not angry then you are not queer or you're not paying attention," O'Neal said. "We want to activate our community and make sure we're showing up hard - but also that we're putting our energies (out) in ways that will increase our access."

While vaccines remain limited, O'Neal and others called for prevention measures, including by limiting sexual partners.

Amber Schmidtke, who holds a Ph.D in medical microbiology and immunology, wrote in her blog that the United States' response "feels flatfooted and reminiscent of what we saw in March 2020."

She said leaders should take this "skyrocketing" outbreak more seriously.

It's important to understand that monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease even though officials said almost all of Georgia's now 158 cases were among men who have sex with men in the Atlanta area.

The ways in which we talk about this disease, with our peers, lovers and friends, is important, O'Neal said.

"I also think it's really important to try to decrease the amount of stigma that's happening with monkeypox and recognize that this is not a gay disease," O'Neal said. "I mean, it's very similar to the same sort of narratives around HIV."

Schmidtke said the explosion of cases in the U.S. and throughout the world is a coincidence of unfortunate timing during Pride Month.

"We have since seen monkeypox in children, and the World Health Organization is warning that we should expect cases in children, pregnant women and the immunocompromised," she said.

She also noted that reports from public health officials show the disease itself is painful.

Monkeypox is now found in almost all 50 states.