Department seeks to allay fears as Mpox numbers rise

One of the signs of Mpox is a skin rash which can manifest in different forms. | WHO

One of the signs of Mpox is a skin rash which can manifest in different forms. | WHO

Published Jun 22, 2024


Durban — The Department of Health has sought to allay fears about Mpox, saying the disease is preventable and treatable if people who think they could be infected are clinically evaluated as soon as possible.

This week the number of cases rose to 13: seven in KwaZulu-Natal, five in Gauteng and one in Cape Town. All the infected are in their 20s and 30s.

Health Department spokesperson Foster Mohale said while there were 13 confirmed cases, the real number could be a lot higher.

“We also have suspected cases, which means the contacts of those who tested positive. So if you tested positive, you go back to your colleagues, your family who you live with, then we do the contact tracing, screen them and where we see some suspected symptoms, we take samples for laboratory testing.”

Six of the confirmed infected in KZN are based in eThekwini Municipality while the seventh is from uMgungundlovu.

Mohale warned that anyone was at risk of contracting the disease, regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation. Currently, the 13 cases are men and “identify themselves as men having sex with men”.

This week the Health Department announced the arrival of a batch of Mpox specific treatment, Tecovirimat (also known as TPOXX or ST-246), which would be used to treat patients who experienced severe health complications as a result of the disease.

Mohale said South Africa had acquired the medication from the World Health Organization.

“However, all mild cases will continue to be managed with supportive treatment used to manage complications like fever, pneumonia and skin infections,” he said.

The WHO said it was important to distinguish Mpox from chickenpox, measles, bacterial skin infections, scabies, herpes, syphilis, other sexually transmissible infections and medication-associated allergies.

“Someone with Mpox may also concurrently have another sexually transmissible infection such as herpes. Alternatively, a child or adult with suspected Mpox may also have chickenpox. For these reasons, laboratory testing is important for confirmation of Mpox,” it said.

According to the WHO, populations have become more susceptible to Mpox because of the termination of routine smallpox vaccination which offered some cross-protection in the past.

“Mpox is a zoonosis, a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans, with cases often found close to tropical rainforests where there are animals that carry the virus. Evidence of monkeypox virus infection has been found in animals including squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, different species of monkeys and others,” the WHO said on its website.

The Health Department said the Mpox rash looks like blisters or sores and can affect the face, palms of the hands, soles of the feet and groin. Common symptoms include a rash which may last two to four weeks, fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy and swollen glands (lymph nodes).

“Hand hygiene is one of the effective ways to protect people from getting sick and prevent transmission of the diseases, hence people are reminded to always wash hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, especially before eating or touching your face and after you use the bathroom.”

Independent on Saturday