Johannesburg, May 24 (PTI) South Africa has no monkeypox cases yet but the risk of importation of infection is a reality, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has said, amid concerns in Europe over growing infections.

After the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of the first case of monkeypox in the United Kingdom with a traveller from Nigeria affected by it on May 13, 14 more countries reported a total of 140 cases of the disease, which was first identified in Africa some time back.

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There are, however, currently no reported cases on the continent.

Symptoms of monkeypox include rash, fever, painful lymph nodes, and oral ulcers. Milder cases of monkeypox may go undetected and represent a risk of person-to-person transmission.

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There is likely to be little immunity to the infection in those travelling or otherwise exposed, as endemic disease is usually geographically limited to parts of West and Central Africa, NICD said.

Although monkeypox, which is related to smallpox (that has been eradicated), sporadically causes small outbreaks, transmission is believed to be inefficient as close contact is required. Thus, the current outbreak is unlikely to progress to being a global emergency, as was the case with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Monkeypox is usually a self-limiting illness, and most cases will recover within a few weeks without treatment. However, severe disease may be observed in young children, pregnant women, and individuals who are immunocompromised. Historically, vaccination against smallpox was shown to be protective against monkeypox.

“The implications for South Africa are that the risk of importation of monkeypox is a reality as lessons learnt from COVID-19 have illustrated that outbreaks in another part of the world can fast become a global concern,” said NICD Executive Director, Prof Adrian Puren.

Puren said the WHO has not recommended any travel restrictions and is working with the affected countries to limit transmission and determine sources of exposure.

He added that for any persons entering South Africa, any illness during travel or upon return from an endemic area should be reported to a healthcare professional, including information about all recent travel, immunisation history and contact with any known cases.

Residents and travellers to endemic countries should avoid contact with sick animals that could harbour monkeypox virus, such as rodents, marsupials, and primates and should refrain from eating or handling wild game, Puren suggested.

“The NICD is equipped to test for monkeypox as the Centre for Emerging, Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases (CEZPD) has a diagnostic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in place and electron-microscopy capacity,” said Dr Jacqueline Weyer from the Special Viral Pathogens Division at the CEZPD.

The NICD will continually assess the risk for local introduction and/transmission of monkeypox in collaboration with the National Department of Health and the WHO in line with the International Health Regulations.

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