US seeks to extend monkeypox testing as cases rise

US health officials are seeking to extend capabilities to test for the monkeypox virus as case numbers continue to rise.

There have been 45 confirmed monkeypox cases in 16 US states so far, with the bulk of the current outbreak outside Africa, where the virus is endemic, occurring in Europe.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that the agency was working with the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to expand testing capacity to include commercial laboratories.

The move follows calls from infectious-disease experts who say testing for the virus needs to become part of routine care.

At present, preliminary monkeypox testing in the United States is conducted through a network of 69 public health laboratories, which send results to the CDC for confirmation.

While testing for the virus in the country rose by 45% last week, that needs to increase dramatically if the outbreak is to be contained, infectious-disease experts have suggested.

“There is not enough testing going on now for monkeypox in the United States,” said Dr Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“The commercial labs are used to working with health care providers from across the country, moving samples around quickly, reporting results quickly in a way that providers understand and expect,” he said.

The CDC says that it’s not clear how the people were exposed to monkeypox, but early data suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases. However, it adds, anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.

In a detailed report of 17 cases published by the CDC last week, most patients identified as men who have sex with men.

In many of the cases, the monkeypox rash started in the genital area, which could lead some doctors to misdiagnose it as a more common sexually transmitted infection such as herpes or syphilis.

The Association of Public Health Laboratories said it has plenty of capacity now but will work to expand testing to commercial labs should the outbreak continue to grow.

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