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Cases are declining nationally, and the deputy coordinator of the White House monkeypox response team said he expects them to decline over time.

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WASHINGTON — With monkeypox cases declining nationally, federal health officials expressed optimism Thursday that the virus can be eliminated in the United States, though they warned that unless it is eradicated worldwide, Americans remain at risk.

“Our goal is to eradicate it; that’s what we’re working on,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the deputy coordinator of the White House Monkeypox Response Team, during a visit to a monkeypox vaccination clinic in Washington. He added, “The prediction is we’re going to get very close.”

Dr. Daskalakis was joined by President Biden’s health secretary, Xavier Becerra, and the coordinator of the response team, Robert J. Fenton Jr., who echoed his optimism. The visit to the clinic was intended to highlight the efforts of the District of Columbia to close the racial gap in the vaccination against monkeypox – an important goal of the Biden administration.

“The president said from the beginning, ‘Get on top of this, and then stay ahead,'” Mr. Becerra told reporters. “And we can’t say we’ve really stayed ahead if we’re leaving certain communities behind.”

Dr. Daskalakis, an infectious disease expert who previously headed the division of H.I.V. Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was brought up by Mr. Biden last month on the monkeypox response team.

On Thursday, Dr. Daskalakis did not give a timeline for ending the outbreak in the United States, saying only that he was looking into his “Mediterranean crystal ball.” But he said he expects that, over time, cases will decline and infections will emerge only sporadically, allowing health officials to isolate and vaccinate the close contacts of those infected — and end the outbreak in the process.

This strategy, known as ring vaccination, was used in the global campaign to stamp out smallpox, which was declared eradicated in 1980.

But there is a big difference between monkeypox and smallpox: smallpox only occurs in humans, while monkeypox also occurs in animals. The existence of an “animal reservoir” means there will always be a risk of spreading to humans, said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota.

“Eradication is a very sacred word in public health; eradicating means it’s gone permanently, and the only virus we’ve dealt with so far is smallpox,” said Dr. Osterholm.

He said a better word would be “elimination,” and a better comparison would be measles. “We had a large measles elimination program in this country and greatly reduced the occurrence of measles, but the challenge today remains the introduction of the virus by individuals around the world,” said Dr. Osterholm.

The first US cases in the current monkeypox outbreak occurred in May. The disease, which has occurred in the United States mainly in men who have sex with men, is characterized by fever, muscle aches, chills and lesions. It is rarely fatal in rich countries like the United States, but it can cause excruciating pain. The current outbreak is unusually large; the last major monkeypox outbreak in the United States occurred in 2003, when 47 confirmed and probable cases were reported in six states.

In the current outbreak, the United States accounts for more than a third of the approximately 65,000 cases reported worldwide; as of Thursday, the C.D.C. have reported nearly 25,000 cases in the country. An average of about 200 cases per day are still being reported in the US, although this figure is down significantly from the height of the outbreak in August.

Confirmed Monkeypox Cases in the U.S.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention To see also : Memorandum on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.

Chart showing cases of monkeypox confirmed by the C.D.C. in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

The decline is a relief for Biden administration officials, who came under sharp criticism for their response — and particularly a lack of vaccination — in the early days of the outbreak. Critics, including many gay rights activists, said the administration did not move aggressively to order and distribute vaccine doses before many gay men became infected during Pride celebrations in June.

One of those activists, James Krellenstein, a founder of PrEP4All, an advocacy group, said Dr. Daskalakis’ comments were premature. He said a lack of federal funds to research monkeypox, and a lack of answers to basic questions, made it too soon to predict an end to the outbreak.

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