Defences against monkeypox

Reem Leila , Friday 16 Sep 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly reports on the Health Ministry’s readiness to detect and treat monkeypox.



The detection of Egypt’s first case of monkeypox was announced by the Ministry of Health and Population on 7 September. It involved a 42-year-old male who resides in a European country and was visiting Egypt. The patient, who had not directly contacted any of his family members, is currently being isolated in Mansoura Hospital.

The country’s first case was discovered while the Health Ministry’s medical teams were conducting epidemiological monitoring procedures, according to Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Population. Such steps started at all the country’s land and seaports in July. The ministry has provided medical teams with the required diagnostic equipment, Abdel-Ghaffar said.

Abdel-Ghaffar noted that although the ministry increased its surveillance a few months ago, it did not allocate any hospitals for quarantine. Monkeypox is unlike Covid-19 which is a fast-spreading disease, and the carrier of the disease, even if they do not show symptoms, can transmit the infection to many patients. Monkeypox is transmitted through close contact, and the patient is not contagious until after blisters and rashes appear on their skin, Abdel-Ghaffar explained.

The ministry has trained its doctors, nurses, and staff members on how to diagnose a possible patient, refer him or her to quarantine and provide the required medical care until recovery, which could last for a few weeks, Abdel-Ghaffar added.

He said the virus, which originated from animals, could be transmitted from animals to humans and from humans to humans. “Infections result due to direct contact between an infected and a healthy person, by touching an infected skin, and sex,” he added.

Dermatologist Hisham Zaher said patients recently infected with monkeypox usually suffer high fever, headache, muscle pain, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, shivers, and exhaustion. “These symptoms are followed by a rash which begins on the face, then spreads to other parts of the body where the patients experience a painful rash and open sores,” Zaher said.

According to Zaher, symptoms of monkeypox generally last from 14 to 21 days. They are usually mild, and most people recover within a few weeks after being treated in hospital. More than 90 per cent of patients suffer from rashes and blisters on their faces, while 75 per cent contract rashes in the palm of their hands and soles of the feet, while 30 per cent suffer rashes in their genitalia, and 20 per cent in their conjunctiva, he explained.

Monkeypox originally appeared in central and western Africa in 1958. The virus’ incubation period can last from five to 21 days.

Despite the similarity in the names and symptoms, monkeypox is completely different from chickenpox; they are from two different families. The monkeypox virus belongs to the “poxviruses” family, while the chickenpox virus belongs to the “herpesviruses” family.

There is no immune overlap between the two viruses and getting a vaccine or being infected with one does not protect against the other. “Swollen lymph nodes are a distinctive symptom of monkeypox, which is not found in chickenpox,” Zaher added.

Egypt is the seventh Middle East and North Africa (MENA) country to report a monkeypox infection, according to a statement by the World Health Organisation (WHO). There are 33 monkeypox infections in six MENA countries: six in Lebanon, six in Saudi Arabia, one in Iran, 16 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), three in Qatar and one in Morocco.

According to the latest WHO statement, since countries started reporting the number of infected cases in early May this year, more than 54,900 people in 75 countries have contracted the virus and 16 have died.

Zaher said monkeypox is not transmitted from human to human via breath but could be transmitted via a person’s saliva.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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