Monkeypox cases reported in 19 countries: What happens if it reaches SA?

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  • Cases of monkeypox are continuing to spread in non-endemic countries.
  • There is a possibility that the viral disease could reach SA, but there is no cause for concern, say experts.
  • SA's NICD has laboratory capacity to test for monkeypox, the health institute's Dr Jacqueline Weyer said.


As of 24 May, 240 confirmed cases of monkeypox were reported in 19 countries, and numbers are expected to increase.

READ | Monkeypox: NICD doesn't see the need for mass vaccination campaign

“We’re only a few days in, and we do expect to see many more cases in the immediate coming days,” Dr Rosamund Lewis, head of the smallpox secretariat, World Health Organization (WHO) Emergencies programme, said during a briefing on Wednesday.

Lewis described the outbreak as an “unusual situation” as a high number of cases have been reported in multiple countries within just a couple of days.  

On Tuesday, executive director at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) professor Adrian Puren said that the risk of the virus entering South Africa was a reality. No cases have been reported in SA as of 25 May.

“Lessons learnt from Covid-19 have illustrated that outbreaks in another part of the world can fast become a global concern,” said Puren.

However, in a briefing on Wednesday, Puren added that, unlike Covid-19, this was not a highly pathogenic virus, and was, therefore, unlikely to evolve into a global health crisis.

No fatalities have yet been reported.

What happens if it reaches SA?

The NICD is equipped to test for monkeypox, said Dr Jacqueline Weyer, from the NICD's Centre for Emerging Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases.

“The [NICD’s] Centre for Emerging, Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases has a diagnostic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in place and electron-microscopy capacity,” she commented.

On Wednesday, Weyer said that the current monkeypox outbreak was the largest that has been recorded outside of the 12 endemic countries.

An endemic disease is one that is consistently present but limited to a particular region. 

The 12 endemic countries are Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana (identified in animals only), Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.

The WHO also stated that the identified cases with no direct travel links to an endemic area “represents a highly unusual event.”

Vaccination not critical, other strategies more viable

While there are smallpox vaccines which can protect against monkeypox, these have been kept in stockpiles by different entities internationally as a backup for smallpox following its eradication in 1980.

This means there are currently no commercial vaccines available for monkeypox, said Weyer. However, she added:

“But with this disease … I think we can move quicker to bring the outbreak under control internationally, but also if we would have cases in South Africa, by just doing the classical containment approach for outbreaks.

And that is identifying all of your cases or contacts, monitoring them, and then isolating any confirmed cases so that you very physically interrupt the chain of transmission.”

Puren also weighed in, saying that he didn’t believe mass vaccine campaigns were needed for the monkeypox outbreak.

Together with the Department of Health, the NICD will continually assess the risk for local introduction and transmission of the virus, reassured Weyer. 

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READ | No monkeypox cases detected in SA, but more than 140 cases reported in 15 countries - NICD

READ | Monkeypox: NICD doesn't see the need for mass vaccination campaign

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