Health officials across the US, including the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, are warning of an uptick in Mpox cases after a year of minimal reported cases and just four months into a critical election year.

On Wednesday, the NC DHHS notified the public of a growing number of cases. Over the past six months, 45 cases have been reported in 12 counties across North Carolina, most of which were more than a month ago. Of the 45 Mpox cases in the past six months, there have been five hospitalizations and zero deaths.

Previously known as Monkeypox, the virus peaked in the summer of 2022 and a total of 703 cases were reported in North Carolina that year. The 2022 outbreak prompted President Joe Biden to declare a public health emergency, opening the door to emergency funds and additional staff positions to respond. The emergency status lasted six months. In 2023, just nine cases were reported. 

With a 95% case rate among males, the virus is almost exclusively contracted among gay men in prolonged close contact. The DHHS encourages individuals to get the free, two-dose vaccine. Eligibility factors include people with multiple or anonymous sex partners and people who know or suspect they have been exposed to mpox in the last 14 days.

The health agency did not specify when asked if the vaccine is particularly recommended for males.

“The mpox vaccine is free and available, regardless of gender identity,” the Equity Communications Manager at the NC DHHS told the Carolina Journal. 

Data shows 15,642 North Carolinians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including over 1,200 women. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifies that gay men should get the vaccine.

While there are no reported deaths in North Carolina in the last six months, the CDC reports a growing number of cases, mainly along the east coast. New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania have reported the highest case levels.

“There is concern for a further increase in cases as the summer approaches,” the Pennsylvania  Department of Health said in a statement last week. Like North Carolina, Pennsylvania is a key battleground state in the presidential election.

The COVID-19 emergency shattered normalcy in the lead-up to the November 2020 presidential election. State and national public emergencies could again prompt all-too-familiar confusion as the 2024 election heats up.