Here’s how SC hospitals are preparing for monkeypox. Are they concerned? 5 things to know

·3 min read
Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com

South Carolina’s largest health care system is preparing for a potential monkeypox outbreak in the face of possible cases currently being monitored in the state.

Dr. Helmut Albrecht, medical director for infectious disease research and policy at Prisma Health in Columbia, said Prisma was ready for possible monkeypox cases and was undergoing training and other preparations.

As the state’s largest healthcare system, the nonprofit Prisma Health has 18 acute and specialty hospitals, 2,947 beds, nearly 300 outpatient sites, more than 2,000 physicians and serves about 1.5 million patients annually.

The system has not yet had a reported case of monkeypox.

However, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is currently monitoring several people in the state who came into contact with someone tested positive for monkeypox. DHEC said none of the people it is monitoring have shown any symptoms.

Clusters of monkeypox cases have been reported since May 14 in several countries that don’t normally have it. Monkeypox initially begins with flu-like symptoms and swelling of the lymph nodes, and then progresses to rashes on the face or genitals. Infections typically last two to four weeks, federal health officials said.

Here are five things to know, from how Prisma is training for monkeypox to the likelihood of an outbreak.

Infectious disease training

Albrecht said Prisma provides ongoing training to its physicians to recognize symptoms of infectious diseases and is doing the same for the current cases of monkeypox. The latest cases of monkeypox have reportedly been sexually transmitted, something that is fairly unusual for the disease, Albrecht said. Monkeypox is typically transmitted to humans handling or in close contact with rodents that have the disease and traditionally is spotted by lesions on the hands and arms.

“We’re providing training for physicians to recognize this — it’s a little different with genital lesions being more pronounced,” Albrecht said.

COVID has helped prepare for monkeypox

Albrecht said Prisma was already fairly prepared for monkeypox because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The good news is with COVID, the number of people trained in dealing with infectious diseases is much higher,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht said there are many more people in the system who know how to properly wear bio-hazard suits to prevent the spread of diseases. Also, Prisma has two units in Richland and Greenville set up and prepared to deal with patients under isolation and infected with novel pathogens.

Monkeypox care available

Unlike the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are already some ways to fight monkeypox.

“What I think a lot of people don’t realize is there are two medications for this approved in the U.S. already,” Albrecht said.

Specifically, there are vaccines against smallpox, a related disease, that have shown to be good at preventing the infection of smallpox.

The U.S. has had a monkeypox outbreak before

This isn’t the first time monkeypox has popped up in the U.S.

Albrecht said there was an outbreak in 2003, mostly in the Midwest, that was worse than what has been seen so far this year. In the previous instance, 47 cases were reported.

“Nobody made a big deal about it then because this was before COVID,” Albrecht said.

In 2003, all the people infected had contact with prairie dogs which, in turn, had been exposed to a rat that had the disease.

Potential for monkeypox outbreak in SC low

Monkeypox isn’t nearly as transmissible as COVID-19. It has a tough time transmitting from person to person, Albrecht said.

“I don’t think we’ll have a single one (case),” Albrecht said. “Doesn’t mean we can ignore it.”

He noted that the potential cases currently being monitored by the DHEC are people who were just on the same plane as a monkeypox patient.

“These patients are at home at will make calls if they show symptoms,” he said. “It’s really very unlikely that we’ll get any of those calls in my personal opinion.”

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