COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) — The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a “global health emergency” Saturday, and South Carolina health officials are preparing for the outbreak.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), South Carolina currently has seven cases of the virus, but the U.S. is closing in on 3,000. This map shows the spread of almost 17,000 monkeypox cases to 74 countries across the world.
“Monkeypox has not been the most common illness that many clinicians have had to think about,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, pediatric infectious disease physician at MUSC.
Thacker said the risk to the general public in South Carolina remains low, but doctors have continued to “play catch-up” to learn more about the virus since it came to the U.S.
“We’re growing awareness about what monkeypox is, what it can look like and how to be tested,” Thacker said.
According to health experts, monkeypox is spreading mostly though prolonged, skin-to-skin contact, as well as through items like clothing that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids.
Symptoms of monkeypox include a rash on the face and body, fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes and chills, according to the CDC.
“I don’t think it will ever reach a point of pandemic level, like COVID-19, by any means,” Thacker said. “But the WHO is raising the flag to make sure that communities are paying attention to this.”
South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said the state is using monkeypox vaccines to treat the virus, but there is a limited supply.
As a result, the 1,700 vaccines given to the state are currently reserved for exposed and high-risk individuals, said Brannon Traxler, director of public health at DHEC.
“I do ask the general public, if you’re not part of that high-risk group, don’t try to get the vaccine, because at this point you don’t need it, and we do have very limited numbers,” Traxler said.
The CDC confirmed the first two cases of children diagnosed with monkeypox Monday, and Thacker said parents should continue monitoring their children for rashes and flulike symptoms.
He said settings with close contact, like daycares and schools, could contribute to the spread amongst children.
“It is very important that we get a good understanding of where monkeypox is in our communities to prevent it from becoming an issue or a barrier to kids being at school safely,” Thacker said.
Thacker also said doctors have found some communities to be at higher risk than others, including men who have sex with other men.
“I think for our community of men who have sex with men, certainly this is a very risky time to have intimate contact with someone who has a rash that hasn’t gotten treated or evaluated,” Thacker said.
For more information on DHEC’s response to the monkeypox outbreak, click here.