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South Carolina health officials confirm state's first two monkeypox cases

CDC photo

July 8, 2022, 11:10 a.m.: This story has been edited to include an interview with epidemiology professor Melissa Nolan.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed the state’s first cases of monkeypox.

According to DHEC, one case is in a person in the Midlands region and the other is a person in the Lowcountry region.

The agency said the affected individuals will be monitored until they are no longer infectious to prevent spread of the virus and will be isolated if needed. Appropriate care will be provided as needed.

In a statement, State Epidemiologist Linda Bell said, “We understand residents have concerns about how this virus might impact our state. We expected infections to eventually occur in South Carolina as part of the larger international outbreak."

Dr. Bell said DHEC has been planning a response for weeks and averred that monkeypox “doesn’t spread easily and we believe the risk to the general population remains low at this time.”

Dr. Melissa Nolan, an epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina, stressed in a phone interview Friday that monkeypox is not a disease currently being transmitted in community settings, such as libraries and grocery stores. She said contracting monkeypox – which is painful, but not typically fatal – requires intimate physical contact, such as kissing or sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, men who have sex with men , so far, comprise the majority of the roughly 7,500 cases found in about five dozen countries.

Dr. Nolan said monkeypox typically manifests in the mouth and is often transmitted orally. The most visible signs typically progress as small, flat red spots on the face and extremities that eventually swell into fluid-filled, pimple-like lesions. Those lesions eventually develop black dots and scab over, and, ultimately heal, she said.

According to the World Health Organization, a monkeypox infection cycles through in two to four weeks. It’s fatality rate is between 3 and 6% globally.

While contracting monkeypox does not put a person at risk to develop other infectious diseases, Dr. Nolan said having the rash can make a person more susceptible to a bacterial skin infection – but that “it’s not like HIV.”

It’s also not like COVID, and that you can’t get it from “touching a cereal box” or standing in a room with someone who has it, she said.

“The big message is, your chance of getting [monkeypox] is really rare,” she said.

If you do contract the disease, Dr. Nolan said that there is treatment, available widely. There also is a vaccine.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.