Monkeypox testing limited in capital region as statewide cases hit 900

ALBANY — Monkeypox tests are hard to come by in the Capital Region, which saw its first two cases this week, in Albany and Greene counties.

Several local urgent care centers and healthcare providers contacted by The Times Union on Friday said their doctors were not prepared to perform a monkeypox test, which involves dabbing a suspicious blister and send to a lab.

New York’s monkeypox infections have doubled in number each week, surpassing the number of cases in other states, with 900 cases in the state as of July 22, according to the state Department of Health and the Centers. for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States.

Vaccines are limited and antiviral drugs are still in clinical phase, which means they are tightly controlled by the CDC, but swabbing symptomatic patients for monkeypox is a disease control tool that is not limited by state or federal governments.

The state has not established large-scale testing sites due to limitations in currently available diagnostic tools, state health officials said.

Unlike COVID-19, which can be diagnosed in the early stages of the disease, monkeypox can only be diagnosed in people with pus-filled blisters that have already scabbed over.

The state Department of Health emphasized its tips for healthcare providers on collecting monkeypox samples. The department also conducted an extensive outreach campaign to educate healthcare providers on how to test for the disease, issuing three health notices, hosting two webinars and a virtual town hall with the New York City Health Commissioner. , Mary T. Bassett, said a spokesperson for the department.

“We continue to ensure that clinicians in all areas of the state have the information they need to test and care for New Yorkers with suspected or confirmed monkeypox,” spokesperson Cort Ruddy said. “It’s also the responsibility of providers to have the tools they need to properly care for their patients, and those tools include the most up-to-date information.”

State health officials are struggling to let providers know that the state has sufficient capacity to process tests at its public health labs and through partnerships with LabCorp, Mayo Clinic, Aegis Sciences Corporation and Sonic Healthcare.

“We have two exceptional public health laboratories in this state. The Wadsworth Center is capable of processing approximately 240 specimens per day. We continue to have capacity. We have no backlog of untested specimens. And as I mentioned, we now have commercial labs that we’re boarding,” Bassett said during a press briefing this week.

In many cases, the message has not been transmitted.

An employee of WellNow, one of the region’s largest emergency care providers, said its doctors were not testing for monkeypox.

Likewise, the Monkeypox test is not available at EmUrgentCare or primary care centers at Albany Medical Center, a hospital spokesperson said.

Health care organizations that cater to underserved communities said they expected more guidance from the state.

The Alliance for Positive Health, a health and social care coordinator in the capital region that works with the LGBTQ community and other underserved groups, has referred patients to their primary care doctors for testing. and Saratoga County for vaccines.

Asked about the availability of monkeypox testing and treatment, spokespersons for Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Health Partners said their doctors are aware of the latest CDC and DOH guidelines. of State.

Saratoga County Health Department to Host Monkeypox Vaccination Clinic at its offices at 6012 County Farm Road in Ballston Spa on Wednesday July 27 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

An appointment is required. Make an appointment at Saratoga County Health Department Monkeypox Resource Center. There are currently no reported cases of monkeypox in Saratoga County.

The Albany County Health Department is “working to ensure wider availability of test kits at health care provider offices across the region and encourages providers to order test kits available in the commerce,” a county spokesperson said.

Saratoga County officials said no special equipment was needed and practitioners could perform a simple swab test on eligible patients.

“They can order the test as they normally would for other tests,” county spokeswoman Christine Rush said. “However, people seeking to be tested for monkeypox should first consult with their health care provider; they cannot go separately to a commercial lab, submit a sample and request a test.”

Another barrier to testing is the prohibitive cost for the uninsured, according to Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who wrote a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday asking the state to make monkeypox testing free for the uninsured. insured.

“People who are already developing symptoms have to work through a disorganized system that often requires multiple phone calls to doctors, specialists or healthcare facilities,” she wrote. “At one urgent care facility I contacted, patients without insurance are being charged $225 for a monkeypox test.”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said Hochul had “aggressively pushed to expand the availability of monkeypox testing, vaccines and other critical resources and we will review the Assemblyman’s letter.”

Monkeypox, endemic to West and Central Africa, produces a painful rash and, in some people, flu-like symptoms. It can spread from infected small animals and people through saliva, physical contact, shared towels, or contaminated bedding. Anyone can get monkeypox, but the current epidemic disproportionately affects men who have sex with men.

People eligible for the vaccine include adults who are gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men and people who have had multiple sex partners in the last 14 days.

Since the majority of infections are concentrated in the downstate, the DOH has targeted much of its limited vaccine supply to New York City.

The Saratoga County Health Department was the first local health agency to receive a federal shipment of monkeypox vaccines due to its status as a travel destination. The agency held several monkeypox clinics this week, vaccinating more than 240 people. Another is scheduled for next week.

Albany County also recently acquired 40 doses of the monkeypox vaccine and is working on a plan to target them to those most at risk of exposure and people with weakened immune systems, the gate said. – county spokesperson, Cameron Sagan, in a statement.

“This strategy will include allocating the vaccination to Albany Medical Center for use in their clinic,” Sagan said. “We anticipate that other vendors will receive limited supply and will release more details once these plans are finalized.”

An antiviral treatment called Tecovirimat, which has been successful in treating smallpox, is still being tested by the CDC, but some patients may be eligible to participate in the trial, state health officials said.