People who suspect they have been infected with monkeypox should get tested, health care officials say. (Photo by Pixelshot via Canva)

Monkeypox infections in Oregon have suddenly spiked, prompting health officials to urge those most susceptible to the virus to get vaccinated.

The Oregon Health Authority said on Tuesday that the epidemic had appeared to have peaked in August from about 10 to 15 cases a week previously to two to three. But 19 new infections have been reported over the past two weeks, it said. 

Oregon has nearly 260 cases, including two children. The majority of those infected are gay and bisexual men. The majority are Multnomah County residents, between 30 and 39 years old and members of the Latinx and Black communities, the health authority said in a statement.

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State officials have repeatedly urged those at risk to get vaccinated. The virus, which causes painful sores, spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, especially sex.

Health care officials have administered about 6,000 second doses of the vaccine, Jynneos. Dr. Tim Menza, senior health adviser for the agency’s monkeypox response, said about 6,000 people have yet to get their second shot, which can prolong immunity and help prevent future outbreaks. The shots are given 28 days apart.

The agency has repeatedly urged susceptible communities to get vaccinated, and officials have contacted people who’ve gotten the first shot by text or phone to urge them to follow up. Nevertheless, some people say they’ve not had access to the shots.

“Some people reported that their health care providers have not offered them vaccination, that they did not know that vaccine was available and that they didn’t know how to get vaccinated,” Menza said. “Some told us that they had planned to get vaccinated but had put it off, or they assumed they had protection due to prior smallpox vaccination as a child.”

He urged health care providers to keep monkeypox in mind when evaluating patients and to vaccinate those at risk.

State health officials are trying to get the Jynneos vaccine into pharmacies and have advertised the vaccine’s availability at federally qualified health centers across the state. These centers serve many people on Medicaid. Health officials urge patients to get a monkeypox vaccine along with their COVID-19 boosters and flu shots to reduce stigma or to ask for the shot when they get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The state’s outreach effort has focused on improving vaccine access in communities of color, the health authority said.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.