Authorities brace for Monkeypox outbreak



MASERU – The August 15 announcement in Pretoria of a fourth case of Monkeypox by neighbouring South Africa’s health minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has sent shockwaves throughout Lesotho, enclaved by the republic, compelling preparedness steps for a possible outbreak by health authorities. In a statement, Phaahla said a Monkeypox case was identified through laboratory testing in a 28-year-old male from the  Western Cape province. The patient had travel history to Spain and returned to South Africa on the second week of August 2022.

The fourth case follows three unlinked laboratory-confirmed Monkeypox cases that were reported from Gauteng, Western Cape and Limpopo provinces respectively. These cases were reported in males aged 30, 32 and 42 who have since reportedly completed the self-isolation and monitoring period without further symptoms and health complications being reported.  Monkeypox is a viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions. It is endemic in some parts of the African continent.

These developments, according to the public relations officer in Lesotho’s Ministry of Health, ’Mateboho Mosebekoa, have pushed authorities to start preparing for a possible outbreak in the country. Mosebekoa said the health ministry has started developing response guidelines on Monkeypox, with response teams that were established at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic already on standby. This move is intended to cover surveillance activities, case management as well as preparation of laboratories for quick response in case of suspected cases.

She said local radio stations will be used to disseminate all the required information to the publics, with educational campaigns to raise awareness already under way. Moreover, Mosebekoa noted, the public should be vigilant and immediately visit the health centres should they spot signs and symptoms of Monkeypox. She said workers in national health facilities will be guided on safety precautions to follow relating to the disease.

Mosebekoa further urged the public to always stay updated on all the necessary information offered by the Ministry of Health and its departments. “We cannot say that we are 100 percent ready because this is a global outbreak,’’ she said. Adding, though, that it is too soon to predict if Monkeypox could reach the levels of Covid-19 pandemic. Mosebekoa said there’s no vaccine yet for Monkeypox but trials are under way.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the escalating global Monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), with more than 16 000 reported   cases within 75 countries and territories. Monkeypox has a current fatality rate of between three and six percent. Recent WHO studies have found that 95 percent of cases between the month of April and June 2022, occurred during sex between men.

The infectious viral disease occurs in humans and some other animals, and is part of the same family of viruses as Variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox. It is, however, not related to chickenpox. Its symptoms are similar to smallpox but milder, although it is rarely fatal. Monkeypox transmission occurs through close skin-to-skin contact – kissing cuddling or sex with an infected person.

Moreover, this transmission can also occur by touching, clothing or linen bedding or towels of an infected person, or inhaling the respiratory droplets during the prolonged close contact with an infected person. The rash typically spreads to all parts of the body within 24 hours becoming most concentrated on the face, arms and legs. It tends to begin five to 21 days after an infection, and early symptoms include headache, muscle pains, fever and fatigue initially resembling influenza.

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