The United States has declared a public health emergency to bolster the federal response to the outbreak of monkeypox that already has infected more than 6,600 Americans.
"We're prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus," Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra said in a call on Thursday.
The declaration, which is initially effective for 90 days but can be renewed, came as nationwide cases topped 6,600, around a quarter of them from New York state.
Experts believe the real number could be much higher in the current outbreak since the symptoms can be subtle, including single lesions.
The announcement frees federal funding and resources to fight the virus, which may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.
The declaration comes as the the Biden administration has faced criticism over the pace of vaccine availability for monkeypox.
Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they haven't received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand and some have had to stop offering the second dose of the vaccine to ensure the supply of first doses.
The US has so far delivered some 600,000 JYNNEOS vaccines –– originally developed against monkeypox's related virus, smallpox –– but this number figure is still far short of the approximately 1.6 million people considered at highest risk and who need the vaccine most.
Virus can infect 'anyone'
The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing.
But health officials emphasise that the virus can infect anyone.
The announcement comes three days after the Biden administration named top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as the White House coordinators to combat the monkeypox outbreak.
The US declaration comes after the World Health Organization also designated the outbreak an emergency last month –– something it reserves for diseases of highest concern.