HOUSTON — A public health emergency -- that's how Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner described the current status of monkeypox in the city.
There are now 57 confirmed cases across the Houston area.
On Monday, Turner, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and health officials came together to give the public an update on the current situation.
“We are the fourth largest and the most diverse in the country and we need more vaccines,” Turner said. "The number of cases in the Houston area is rising, and because of the limited supply of the vaccine, it is still very concerning. If you think you have monkeypox symptoms, please speak first with your doctor and get tested."
There is some confusion over who can get the virus. It's not just men who have sex with men -- anyone can get it.
"Anyone can get monkeypox. That is not limited to any one population. Just this Friday, we learned of the first two children who were diagnosed with monkeypox," Hidalgo said.
During Monday's news conference, Hidalgo laid out the current plan for the vaccine doses the county has its hands on right now. She said only those who have been exposed or are at high risk qualify to get the vaccine through the health department. She encouraged testing and said it should be easy to find a location to be tested at.
"We are getting testing and vaccination ready ... contact tracing," Hidalgo said. “You can get tested with any provider.”
Local leaders expressed concern and need to get more doses of the vaccine. They said they already received about 5,000 doses but they need more. Turner said he and Hidalgo are going to send a joint letter to the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking for more vaccines to meet the need of the Houston/Harris County region.
Hidalgo said that while cases are rising, the risk remains low. She also said now is the time to prepare and try to minimize its impact.
"I want to be very clear about this -- the risk in Harris County remains low, even though it has been spreading in other countries, in other cities," Hidalgo said. "The good news is that this is a virus that already existed. It's a known virus. There's a vaccine already - the smallpox vaccine - which was developed many decades ago has been shown to work against monkeypox."
Doctors said there isn't a standard protocol to follow when treating patients with monkeypox.
“The process is a little bit challenging,” family physician Dr. Abel Flores said.
Flores is currently treating someone with a suspected case of monkeypox. He made the diagnosis last week but only got approval to test the patient on Monday -- six days later.
“Naturally, it’s very frustrating for us when we feel powerless in providing that for them,” Flores said.
Flores said he hopes a standard protocol for testing, treatments and vaccination is established soon. He also wants people to know that monkeypox doesn’t always look scary. Sometimes just one or two lesions appear and they can look like a pimple, blister or an ingrown hair.
“So, that creates a new level of complexity for us in trying to be able to properly diagnose these individuals,” Flores said.
As the virus spreads, you also know that monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease and there are now two diagnosed cases among children in the United States.
“I think we are doing ourselves, as a society, a great disservice and potential harm when we think of this as only a certain demographic is at risk,” Flores said.
For more information about monkeypox and who to contact if you think you’ve been exposed, visit Harris Health's website or the Houston Health Department's website.