The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is expanding monkeypox testing to commercial laboratories amid fears that the country is undercounting monkeypox cases because of insufficient testing.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced that it began shipping moneypox tests this week to five private testing companies: Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare.
The testing through these companies will begin in early July, HHS said.
“These commercial laboratories will dramatically expand testing capacity nationwide and make testing more convenient and accessible for patients and health care providers,” the department said.
Some public health experts have warned that the US risks repeating the mistakes of the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, when there was not enough testing to detect how widely the virus was really spreading.
“Now the United States, once again, appears to be responding to a new health threat with an underpowered testing response,” Jennifer Nuzzo of Brown University and Jay Varma of Cornell University wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this week.
There is already a network of public health labs across the country able to do monkeypox testing, but experts say that it will be easier for doctors to order tests from commercial laboratories where they have established relationships and can jump through fewer hoops, thereby encouraging more testing. .
“All Americans should be concerned about monkeypox cases. Thankfully we have right now the tools to fight and treat cases in America,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “By dramatically expanding the number of testing locations throughout the country, we are making it possible for anyone who needs to be tested to do so.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports about 150 monkeypox cases in the US currently, though the actual number could be higher.
Still, experts say there are important differences that mean that monkeypox is not simply a repeat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For one, it spreads less easily. The CDC says it spreads through direct contact with rashes, through clothes or bed sheets that have been in contact with the rash, or through “prolonged, face-to-face contact.”
“Monkeypox is rare and does not spread easily between people without close contact,” the CDC says. “The threat of monkeypox to the general US population remains LOW.”
Health officials are encouraging doctors to consider testing monkeypox if they see patients who have rashes that could be from monkeypox.