(NEW YORK) — When the mpox outbreak first struck the United States over the summer, experts said it was mostly affecting minority men.
But new federal data published Thursday shows that among the few hundred cases diagnosed in women — less than 3% of total U.S. cases — Black and Hispanic women were disproportionately affected.
The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at cisgender and pregnant women who were diagnosed with the rare disease between May 11, 2022 and Nov. 7, 2022.
The 2022 outbreak was primarily concentrated in men who have sex with men, a group that includes people who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender and nonbinary, although health officials have said anyone — regardless of sexual orientation — is at risk if they have direct contact with an infected patient.
Over the six-month period, 769 women aged 15 and older were diagnosed with mpox across the country, including 23 who were pregnant or recently pregnant.
Among infections of cisgender women with available data, 44% were among Black women, 25% among white women and 23% among Hispanic women.
This means Black and Hispanic women make up 67% of all mpox cases among women in the United States despite making up a little over 20% of the population, as of 2019.
“This finding is similar to disparities among mpox cases in the United States overall and underscores the continued need for public health efforts to provide education on prevention of mpox and ensure equitable access to mpox vaccination, testing, and treatment,” the authors wrote.
Among the roughly 60% of women with data on their recent sexual behaviors, 73% reported sexual activity or close intimate contact as the likely way they were exposed.
The most common symptom was rash with 93% reporting lesions, particularly on the legs, arms, genitals and chest or stomach.
Other common symptoms included itchy skin at 57%, headache at 54%, malaise at 54%, fever at 49%, and chills at 49% Less than half of the women had data for symptoms.
“Rash location was similar when comparing cisgender women who reported recent sexual exposure with those who did not,” the report read.
Additionally, among the 23 pregnant or recently pregnant women who were diagnosed with mpox, nine reported sexual contact as likely exposure and three reported household contact. The remaining 11 didn’t have exposure data available.
One recently pregnant woman was breastfeeding, and she developed lesions four days after giving birth, under her breast. The newborn subsequently developed lesions on the chest and face six days later, showing how infectious mpox lesions can be.
The CDC said the report also illustrates how more public health efforts needs to be placed on reaching cisgender women at risk for infection.
“Clinicians caring for cisgender women and pregnant persons should become familiar with clinical considerations for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mpox and should provide pre- and postexposure prophylaxis if indicated,” the team wrote. “Vaccination with JYNNEOS should be provided to eligible persons, including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and providers should discuss vaccination risks and benefits.”
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