Minding Monkeypox: Expert Panel Peels Back Contemporary Viruses

Ashlyn Parker

Unless you’ve been comatose for the past several years, you know there have been a series of healthcare crises, the most prominent of which was, of course, COVID. More recently, there has been a resurgence of Polio (!) and, of course, Monkeypox–and the latter was the topic of an expert panel assembled by the Bush School: Drs. Robert Carpenter, Syra Madad, Jennifer A. Shuford, and Robert Kadlec, moderated by Gerald Parker. It was a fascinating discussion, one that left us more educated and a bit more concerned.

There are about 60,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the world, and the U.S. makes up about 39% of those cases, which makes us first in the dubious distinction of leading the world in monkeypox cases. As a public health student, it was especially intriguing to hear how current public health officials view this threat, and what steps are being taken to prevent another pandemic.

Monkeypox is not a new phenomenon. It was first observed in 1958 in monkeys, and in 1970 it made its first known “jump” to humans. Resembling smallpox, it was dubbed monkeypox. This condition appears as lesions on the skin, and these sores make you contagious for up to four weeks. Monkeypox is spread from close skin-to-skin contact where bodily liquids are shared (e.g., kissing or sex).  At present, it is most commonly circulating within the male homosexual population (currently, more than 90% of cases are in men), but it is expected to eventually become a disease in the general population. To protect yourself from Monkeypox, practice safe sex, follow good hand hygiene, and avoid contact–especially skin-to-skin contact–with someone known to carry the virus.

The panel also discussed the differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Monkeypox outbreak. The key difference between the two was the level of readiness at the very beginning. Because we have been studying monkeypox for more than five decades, and because it is a relative of smallpox, we have vaccines that are effective against it. For COVID-19, we had to invent the vaccine more or less from scratch.

Both, however, may be suffering from misconceptions and poor communication. In Monkeypox, there is a misconception about who can catch it (everyone can catch it), and with COVID-19, there was resistance to the idea that it was even a threat. Those who adopted the latter group were also resistant to vaccines. Add to this the fact that vaccine distribution was spotty in rural areas, and there were some problems reaching everyone.

Dr. Robert Carpenter discussed with us how his team, Texas A&M Health Maroon Line Clinic, helped deal with COVID-19 in rural communities. One of the major issues he brought to our attention was the health disparities people face living in a rural community, such as not having sufficient medical staff. He and his team have brought vaccinations to these small Texas towns, distributing more than 240,000 vaccines and holding more than 2,000 events for COVID-19-related causes. Beyond COVID-19 the Maroon Line Clinic also has provided many primary and secondary prevention tactics such as cancer screenings, diabetes education, and substance abuse intervention.

LEAP found this panel discussion very intriguing and informative, as we further our careers in politics and policy. Going to sessions complements our classes at SHSU and inspires us to make a real change like them in this world. Many thanks to the panel and the Bush School’s Scowcroft Institute for hosting a fantastic program.

Ohana Korean Grill

With inspiration from last week’s venture to see General Chun, we decided to go for Korean food. We choose Ohana Korean Grill in College Station, which was, for most of us, our first time trying Korean food.

We ordered a few samplers such as the seafood pancake, which included vegetables and, to our surprise, octopus. We each got a traditional Korean dish such as the BiBimBap, which is a bowl of rice that comes with an assortment of vegetables and beef on top. I ordered the spicy seafood which came with an array of different sea creatures that most other restaurants might not have included. We sat around talking for so long that they brought us some cinnamon and ginger tea which was a wonderful cap to an entertaining and educational evening.

Many thanks to Marybeth Rayburn for joining us!

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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