STATE: NCDHHS announces increased cases of Mpox statewide, urges vaccination for protection

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting a statewide increase in mpox cases. Over the past six months, 45 cases have been reported in 12 counties across North Carolina.

The national mpox outbreak began in late May 2022 and peaked from July to August 2022.  A total of 703 cases were reported in North Carolina that year, and only nine cases occurred in 2023.

The mpox virus, formerly known as monkeypox, is primarily spread by prolonged close contact, typically skin-to-skin, that occurs during sexual activity. It is the associated rash, scabs or body fluid which contain the virus. Although anyone can become infected with mpox, cases have predominantly occurred among gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men.

Fortunately, a safe and effective vaccine is available that reduces the risk of mpox infection, hospitalization and death. Those who are already fully vaccinated with two doses do not need to receive additional mpox vaccine doses.

“It is important people know how to protect themselves against mpox infection as we have seen cases increasing across North Carolina over recent months,” said Dr. Erica Wilson, medical director for the medical consultation unit in the NCDHHS Division of Public Health. “The JYNNEOS vaccine is an important tool and North Carolina has an ample supply of vaccine.”

Vaccines are currently free and available throughout North Carolina, regardless of immigration status. The two-dose JYNNEOS vaccine series is recommended for anyone at risk for mpox and aged 18 years and older, which includes the following:

  • Anyone who has or may have multiple or anonymous sex partners; or
  • Anyone whose sex partners are eligible per the criterion above; or
  • People who know or suspect they have been exposed to mpox in the last 14 days; or
  • Anyone else who considers themselves to be at risk for mpox through sex or other intimate contact.

The mpox vaccine locator can be used to find local vaccine providers.
Anyone who develops mpox symptoms should seek medical care. Symptoms include a rash on any part of the body, like the genitals, hands, feet, chest, face or mouth. The rash can initially look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy. The rash will go through several stages, including scabs, before healing. Some people experience flu-like symptoms before the rash, while others get a rash first followed by other symptoms. In some cases, a rash is the only symptom experienced.

Other mpox symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Exhaustion
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Headache
  • Respiratory symptoms (i.e. sore throat, nasal congestion or cough)

People with mpox are usually sick for about two to four weeks and can spread the virus from shortly before symptoms start until their rash is completely healed, meaning until the scabs fall off and new skin appears. Some patients may benefit from antiviral treatment, including those with severe illness or people with HIV that is not well controlled or other immune compromising conditions. Antiviral treatment may also help treat painful or severe mpox disease involving the eyes, mouth, throat, genitals and anus.

NCDHHS is working closely with local health departments and community partners to provide education about mpox, when to get tested and improve vaccine access for people at higher risk. These efforts to enhance communication, education and outreach include social media campaigns, distributing educational materials, the Mpox Equity Report, the Mpox Communications Toolkit and the Take Pride Now campaign.

More information about the virus, how to limit the risk of infection, and how to get vaccinated can be found on the North Carolina Mpox and CDC Mpox websites.