Monkeypox spreads to 12 African countries, Uganda on high alert

By Timothy Oyomare

Monkeypox, an infectious and potentially fatal disease, has spread to 12 African countries. Outbreak of the disease has also been reported in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the African countries where the monkeypox endemic has occurred include Republic of Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the DR Congo, Gabon, Ghana (identified in animals only), Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.

The disease, which spreads through close contact with the infected person, often manifests with acute skin rash, headache, fever and swollen lymph nodes.

Other symptoms are muscle and body aches, back pain and profound weakness. The skin rash can look similar to that caused by chickenpox or syphilis but the distinguishing feature is fluid-filled blisters on the palms of the hands, according to experts.

The development has prompted the Uganda government to put its scientists on high alert to prevent any eventuality.

Dr Allan Muruta, the commissioner for epidemiology and surveillance at the Ministry of Health, told Daily Monitor yesterday that they are prepared to prevent and manage monkeypox.

“Uganda is at risk because people are always travelling. Currently, we are on alert, we are observing as we get more information about how it is being transmitted. Then there is also [preparation for] response [if a case is detected],” he said.

Dr Muruta said Uganda has not yet detected any case of monkeypox even in the past.

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement yesterday that since May 13, 98 cases of monkeypox have been reported to the organisation from 12 member states that are not endemic for monkeypox virus, across three WHO regions.

“Endemic monkeypox disease is normally geographically limited to West and Central Africa. The identification of confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox without any travel history to an endemic area in multiple countries is atypical, hence, there is an urgent need to raise awareness about monkeypox and undertake comprehensive case finding and isolation (provided with supportive care), contact tracing and supportive care to limit further onward transmission,” the statement reads.

Dr Muruta said monkeypox is a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

“It is transmitted through body fluids and droplets from infected people. In the current outbreak, they suspect that it could be sexually transmitted. But it is a well-known virus. It has been around [in neighbouring countries] and it doesn’t cause much of a scare, it can be managed,” he added.

The WHO, however, said cases have mainly but not exclusively been identified among men who have sex with men seeking care in primary care and sexual health clinics.

“The situation is evolving and WHO expects there will be more cases of monkeypox identified as surveillance expands in non-endemic countries. Those who are most at risk are those who have had close physical contact with someone with monkeypox, while they are symptomatic,” the global health agency warned in the statement.

“Eating inadequately cooked meat and other animal products of infected animals is a possible risk factor. Monkeypox is usually self-limiting but may be severe in some individuals, such as children, pregnant women or persons with immune suppression due to other health conditions,” the WHO added.

-Daily Monitor