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What to know about monkeypox in Southern Nevada

Labus
Kristen DeSilva/KNPR
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Dr. Brian Labus at KNPR on July 11, 2022.

We’ve been dealing with COVID-19 for more than two years now.

Now we’ve got monkeypox.

And no, it isn’t spreading as fast and killing people the way COVID has—but it’s a big concern. Clark County now counts five cases of monkeypox, and 767 across the United States.

But what is it? How does it spread? And how dangerous is it?

Brian Labus is an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the UNLV School of Public Health.

"There's likely some connection to travel, whether they traveled directly themselves, or were in contact with somebody who traveled and brought it back," he said. "Those are the things the disease investigators or the health district are trying to figure out. But it isn't an easy thing to do."

It's likely been underreported, which he said is seen all the time.

Labus said the disease starts as a fever, then after a couple of days, patients experience a rash on the extremities -- hands and feet. It's also seen in the genital area. 

Anyone can get monkeypox, and it's spread typically by skin-to-skin contact. It's not considered a sexually transmitted disease, but can be spread through sexual contact or dancing closely. 

"We don't see asymptomatic disease with monkeypox," Labus said. "If you get this disease, you first get the fever and then you get the rash. It's not like COVID where some people have it and don't know it and are spreading it. You have a rash you have these things going on that allow you to spread the disease to other people."

Symptoms appear within five and 21 days of exposure. 

 

FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. (AP)

 

There is some respiratory spread, because the rash can occur in the mouth and throat, but it's not the main mode, he said. 

Most of the cases are within the gay community, according to the CDC. Labus said the prominence there is just because it's a tight-knit community. 

"It doesn't really matter that there are men who have sex with men, it just happened to get into that population. And it spread within that population. It could have just as easily been college wrestlers, or football players, people that have a lot of contact, but it's just that's the social network," he said.

The illness can be miserable and last for a few weeks, but it's rarely fatal. Labus said there's only been one or two deaths reported.

Treatment can vary. Labus said, including just rest, antivirals and a vaccine given after exposure to prevent symptoms. 

"For some diseases, we can do what we call post exposure prophylaxis, we can treat you after your exposure if it's soon enough. And it will prevent you from getting the disease because it helps basically jumpstart your immune system," Labus said. 

Both the  Southern Nevada Health District and  the CDC have more information available on monkeypox. 

Brian Labus, epidemiologist, assistant professor, UNLV’s School of Public Health

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.