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Health

Health officials in the Carolinas are on the lookout for monkeypox cases

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
An electron microscopic image from 2003 shows monkeypox virus particles in a human skin sample.

North Carolina and South Carolina health officials are watching for cases of monkeypox, a rare disease caused by infection with monkeypox virus. Neither state had identified any cases as of Wednesday afternoon, according to North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services and South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking monkeypox clusters in countries like the U.S. that don’t normally report cases. The agency issued a health alert May 20 after a Massachusetts resident was confirmed to have the illness, though it has said the risk to the general public is low.

The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of smallpox, though milder. They include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion followed by a rash. The virus is endemic to several Central and West African countries, according to the CDC, and illness typically lasts two to four weeks.

“I think it’s certainly possible that the Charlotte area could see a case,” said Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health, though she emphasized that monkeypox is much less contagious than the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Monkeypox virus spreads through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores or items that have been contaminated with fluids or sores like clothing or bedding, DHHS said. It can also spread through respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact.

Despite being less transmissible, Passaretti said it “wouldn’t be a huge surprise” to see at least one case in the Charlotte area since, she said, the city is “a hub of international travel.” Passaretti said there’s also an effective monkeypox vaccine that North Carolina could access if necessary.

In South Carolina, DHEC said it had been monitoring two people who during a flight were in close contact with someone from the United Kingdom who tested positive for monkeypox. Neither person contracted the virus. The two people, who were being monitored for 21 days in the Midlands region of the state, remained asymptomatic, DHEC said.

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