How contagious is monkeypox? If you had chickenpox are you safe? Do kids get it? : Goats and Soda In the wake of the World Health Organization's declaration of a public health emergency, there are many pressing questions. Here's what we know — and don't yet know — about monkeypox.

Monkeypox FAQ: How contagious? Are kids at risk? If you had chickenpox are you safe?

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Since May, the number of monkeypox cases has grown to more than 16,000 worldwide. Over the weekend, the World Health Organization elevated the outbreak to its highest level of alert - a public health emergency of international concern. NPR's Ari Daniel is here with us to break down what that means. Hi, Ari.

ARI DANIEL, BYLINE: Hi there, Juana.

SUMMERS: Ari, why did the WHO make this decision now?

DANIEL: Well, while the overall case numbers may seem somewhat small - just 16,000 across 75 countries and territories - the WHO is worried about how quickly monkeypox is spreading within the group that's experiencing the vast majority of cases, and that's men who have sex with other men. The numbers are doubling every two to three weeks, with cases climbing a little faster in the U.S., which means that things just aren't slowing down. So while WHO has been working with its members to respond to the outbreak, they say it's time to do more. Here's Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.


MICHAEL RYAN: We must act now, and we must act together as we have been acting up to now. But like every effort in human science and human health, there are times when you must accelerate that effort.

DANIEL: And the time to accelerate, says the WHO, is now.

SUMMERS: So, Ari, how does issuing a public health emergency of international concern - how does that help in this case?

DANIEL: That's a great question, Juana. Basically, this declaration kind of kicks everything into high gear. The hope is to get countries to take swifter action, encourage more international coordination and accelerate the distribution of vaccines and treatments. So this declaration is just the first step. Boghuma Titanji is an infectious disease physician at Emory University.

BOGHUMA TITANJI: It's not a magic wand. The WHO doesn't make this designation, and then all of a sudden everything falls into place and, you know, it's guaranteed that the outbreak will be contained. It has to be backed by action, a concerted global response that is centered on equity.

DANIEL: Equity, meaning, according to Titanji, that people in all affected countries need to have fair access to vaccines and other treatments. If wealthier countries hold on to these medical interventions, she says, that will just prolong the global trajectory of the virus.

SUMMERS: In terms of the U.S., how are things looking here now?

DANIEL: Well, cases are rising quickly. The CDC says there are nearly 3,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. Testing has gotten better since several commercial laboratories started testing for monkeypox this month. And in terms of vaccines, the U.S. government has shipped out over 300,000 doses and will be pushing more out to those places where the most cases are being found. The Department of Health and Human Services says millions more are scheduled for delivery by the middle of next year.

SUMMERS: And, Ari, tell us, what are you hearing about treatments?

DANIEL: The CDC last week made it easier for doctors to prescribe TPOXX, Juana, the monkeypox treatment, by reducing some of the paperwork associated with it. Still, advocates say access to vaccines and treatments remains difficult. I spoke with Alexandra Phelan. She's a global health lawyer at Georgetown University.

ALEXANDRA PHELAN: There are communities that are calling out to not only ensure, you know, vaccine access and rolling out better vaccine access, but treatments and pain medication access for people who have got monkeypox, I think, is an urgent priority.

SUMMERS: We'll have to leave it there. That's NPR's Ari Daniel. Thank you so much.

DANIEL: Thank you so much, Juana.

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