Health talk: Let us remain vigilant about monkey pox

Health & Fitness
Monkey pox virus has been shown to have two distinct modes of transmission, animal to human transmission and human to human transmission.

By Johannes Marisa Monkey pox has now been found in Limpopo province of South Africa and the case is the third one in our southern neighbour.

More than 8 000 cases have been identified in the world with at least 80% of them being found in European countries. The World Health Organisation received the notification of the outbreak on May 13.

The United Kingdom had its index case on May 6 after its citizen had returned from Nigeria on May 4. Since the beginning of this year, at least 70 people have succumbed to the virus, which has been shown to have low case fatality rate of around 3%.

Monkey pox virus has been shown to have two distinct modes of transmission, animal to human transmission and human to human transmission.

Animal to human transmission comes from rodents, primates, tree squirrels, dormice and through eating inadequately cooked, contaminated meat.

Human to human transmission occurs through close contact with the lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets. Contaminated materials like bedding.

The virus enters the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or the mucous membranes like eyes, nose or mouth.

The signs and symptoms are almost similar to the dreaded Covid-19 and include high fever, distinctive bumpy rash, muscle aches, backaches, exhaustion or fatigue, swollen lymph nodes. Severe infection occurs in those with immune deficiencies like HIV and Aids patients and the very young children who are below the age of five. However, anyone can get the monkey pox virus infection.

Monkey pox virus belongs to the orthodox viruses, the same group that harbours small pox. Small pox was eliminated in 1980 through massive vaccination campaigns.

The fortunate part about the small pox vaccination was that it simultaneously protected against monkey pox.

The termination of small pox vaccinations meant that monkey pox remained without protection, hence the sprouting of cases today.

Monkey pox virus has been in existence in Africa for some time. The first case was found in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)) in 1970 in a nine-month-old baby and by 1985, 95% of global monkey pox cases were in the DRC alone.

The virus has two strains which are known to date, the first one being the Congolese strain which is more lethal with a case fatality rate of around 10%, the second one being the Western African one with a case fatality rate of about 1%.

People should know that many other African countries have in the past recorded cases of monkey pox and included here are South Sudan, Nigeria, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Benin.

There was no much hullabaloo when monkey pox was predominant in Africa and it is not a secret today that the DRC has been having numerous monkey pox cases for the past three years.

In 2018, the country recorded 2 850 cases, 3 794 suspected cases in 2019 with 73 deaths and 4 594 cases in 2020 with 171 deaths.

No one wanted to think much about monkey pox virus because Covid-19 was then tormenting the world. DRC fought and contained the monkey pox virus alone and World Health Organisation paid little attention to the outbreak at that time.

Africa should not panic much about the monkey pox virus as the infections have now been endemic in many countries especially the DRC.

The prevention of monkey pox virus is almost similar to Covid-19 and the strategies we used in Africa to contain the coronavirus are the same strategies that are supposed to be used against monkey pox virus. These include:

  • Isolation of infected patients
  • Practising good hygiene including hand-washing with soapy water and sanitisation. We need to reduce contact with infected animals
  • Masking up remains key because of avoidance of respiratory droplets of which our country has not discarded masks until today. The US, UK rushed to discard masking up even if Covid-19 is still striking them heavily.
  • Proper disposal of contaminated waste should be done
  • Exercising great care when handling soiled laundry and equipment

Instead of pressing the panic button, Africa should move fast to upgrade its health delivery system by:

  • Increasing health funding to capacitate hospitals and laboratories so that facilities are adequately equipped to deal with monkey pox virus.
  • Increasing testing capacity, surveillance and contact tracing so healthcare workers have to remain motivated and spirited to work.
  • Strengthening of cross-border collaboration is key as data and information from one country is of paramount importance
  • Working closely with relevant non-governmental organisations like Centre for Disease Control.

In essence, there is no need to impose travel restrictions on travellers as monkey pox virus can be contained better than Covid-19.

It is now 51 since the first case was first detected in Africa. In as much as the monkey pox virus is coming as an outbreak today, victory is certain on this one. Report all suspected cases; seek medical attention as soon as you suspect the virus.

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