(Reuters) -Mpox is expected to no longer be considered a public health emergency in the United States from Feb. 1, 2023, the U.S. health department said on Friday.
The months-long declaration was meant to tackle the largest-ever outbreak of cases in the country. The move signals that the crisis, which led to a spate of cases mostly among men who have sex with men, has come under control and would no longer require an emergency status meant to shore up funding and tools to fight the disease.
"Given the low number of cases today, HHS does not expect that it needs to renew the emergency declaration when it ends on January 31, 2023," U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement on Friday.
"But we won't take our foot off the gas - we will continue to monitor the case trends closely and encourage all at-risk individuals to get a free vaccine."
President Joe Biden's administration declared mpox a public health emergency in August after the country recorded over 6,000 cases and as the government came under pressure for its handling of the outbreak.
Cases have been in decline since mid-August in the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month.
The World Health Organization recently named the virus mpox to replace the older term monkeypox, citing concerns of stigma and racism associated with it.
WHO had said in November that the disease continues to represent a global health emergency, but also acknowledged progress made in the global response to the outbreak.
The WHO label, a "public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)", is designed to trigger a coordinated international response and could unlock funding to collaborate on sharing vaccines and treatments.
The disease, which is endemic in parts of Africa, began spreading in Europe earlier this year before moving to the United States.
A rollout of Bavarian Nordic's Jynneos, the only approved monkeypox vaccine, and heightened awareness of the risks of the disease as well as increased immunity appear to have slowed the spread and helped bring cases under control.
Infectious disease experts say that years of financial neglect has left sexual health clinics - which are on the frontline of the current mpox response - ill-prepared to curb further spread.
Data from WHO shows that over 80,000 cases of mpox have been reported in nearly 100 countries since the outbreak started earlier this year. The number of cases have declined from the peak in August.
More than 29,000 cases have been reported in the United States in the outbreak this year, including two deaths, according to government data.
(Reporting by Bhanvi Satija and Aditya Samal in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Maju Samuel and Deepa Babington)