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Monkeypox isn't COVID, but experts say stay alert


As monkeypox cases rise in major U.S. cities, South Dakota health experts are monitoring the illness as the summer ends.

Dr. Victor Huber is a professor of virology at the University of South Dakota.

"Right now, it seems to be spreading pretty readily. It's like a lot of other viruses, if it can find a host, it will infect that host," he said.

There have been two known cases of monkeypox so far in South Dakota, and more than 11,000 nationwide.

Different from COVID-19

Monkeypox is a virus that is spread through contact with bodily fluids and skin lesions, which are small bumps that appear after the beginning of the infection. Symptoms begin with a fever, headache and chills, typically lasting around five days.

Taking precautions similar to those against COVID-19, like being aware of who you're around and maintaining cleanliness, can help limit the risk and exposure to monkeypox.

Huber said monkeypox is not the same as COVID-19. COVID-19 is spread through small droplets that are transmitted through the air, or onto surfaces people touch.

Monkeypox is spread through skin-to-skin contact with other people who show symptoms of monkeypox.

"You need a more direct contact with blood or fluids, or actual lesions to acquire the infection," Huber said.

According to Huber, the virus appears to have two periods, the first including symptoms of illness, headaches and sometimes swollen lymph nodes. In the second period, lesions start to appear, which are what the virus is known for.

Vaccine in use

Monkeypox is being compared to smallpox, which was eradicated globally in 1980. At its height, smallpox was a fatal infection.

But monkeypox is typically not fatal.

"I think it's more severe than chickenpox, but significantly less severe than smallpox," Huber said.

The smallpox vaccine is currently being used to treat monkeypox, but since the eradication of smallpox, the vaccine has not been distributed widely.

Huber said vaccines aren't widely available because there aren't many cases yet.

"They're using an approach where they take people who present symptoms and then vaccinate their close contacts. When the virus starts to spread, we're going to see a need for an increase in vaccines," Huber said.

Monument Health's director of infection prevention, Ty White, said the South Dakota Department of Health is distributing limited vaccine doses to health care facilities.

Guarding against infections

White said individuals cannot spread monkeypox until they have symptoms, unlike COVID-19, which can spread within 6 feet before individuals present symptoms.

"I think it's important that if you do have any of these symptoms like a rash, you contact your health care provider," White said.

Events like the start of the school year and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where individuals are in close contact, could affect the number of cases. But Huber said it's an uncertain time.

"It's really a question of how people will respond to the threat and what happens next. This virus spreads from close contact with individuals," he said.

Monument Health is screening anyone who may have been in contact with monkeypox.

Individuals are advised to monitor their health and view the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website for guidance on treatment.

Marissa Brunkhorst is a junior at the University of South Dakota. She is from Hutchinson, Minnesota and is based out of the Vermillion studio.