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Jul 31, 2022

As we come to terms with the ravaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health has called for vigilance after the country's second case of monkeypox has been identified. What is monkeypox, how is it diagnosed, how is it contracted and how can we avoid it?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although it is clinically less severe”. Monkeypox is mainly found in animals, however, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), “occasionally, the virus may spill over from the infected animals to humans. Once, a person has been infected by an animal, person-to-person transmission may then occur through very close contact”.

How is monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox is not very contagious and does not spread in the same way as viruses such as influenza and COVID-19 do. The Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) mentions that monkeypox spreads in different ways. The virus can spread from person-to-person through:

  • direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids.
  • respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex.
  • touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids.
  • through the placenta from pregnant mother to fetus.

How is monkeypox diagnosed?

Monkeypox is diagnosed by a healthcare worker in consideration of the clinical presentation of the patient.  The nature of the rash would be the most telling sign, healthcare worker will consider possible exposures for the case with the consideration that the likelihood of contracting monkeypox is very low. 

The NICD also mentions that “many other diseases, such as chickenpox, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, herpes, and other bacterial and fungal causes of rash, may cause somewhat similar rashes and are more common. Samples can be tested at the NICD to confirm a diagnosis of monkeypox”. 

How to avoid monkeypox

There are several measures that can be taken to prevent infection with monkeypox:

  1. Minimise skin-to-skin contact, especially if a person has been exposed to the virus, showing a rash or skin sores.
  2. Avoid contact with any materials, such as bedding, that have been in contact with monkeypox.
  3. Practice good hand hygiene. For example, washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  4. Use personal protective equipment (PPE), mask, gloves, eye protection and gowns when caring for people infected with monkeypox. 

The entire world is on high-alert when it comes to emerging, new and existing viruses, especially at the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is not entirely behind us. While it seems unlikely to catch monkeypox, it is important to remain vigilant. It’s always advised to seek professional advice from your doctor should you suspect anything wrong. 

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