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CONTAINING THE MONKEYPOX OUTBREAK

Good personal hygiene is key to stemming the viral disease

In yet another national health emergency, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced on Monday that monkeypox virus, which started with an index case about two weeks ago in Bayelsa State, has now spread to six other states, including Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Rivers, Ekiti, Cross River and Ogun. This is a very troubling development that should ginger the authorities in all the 36 states to move quickly to avert what could become a serious national epidemic.

According to the NCDC Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, there were 31 cases of the ailment in the country as at Monday and they were already being subjected to laboratory tests. Ihekweazu said that the centre had activated an Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) to coordinate investigation into the outbreak and work out appropriate response across the affected states. “The EOC is currently supporting state ministries of health in their response to the outbreak through active case finding, epidemiological investigation and contact tracing,” Ihekweazu said.

First discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in some colonies of monkeys that had been kept for research at the State Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, it was immediately named ‘monkeypox’. But the first human index was reportedly recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. The recent index case in Bayelsa State from where it has spread to other states was traced to the eating of monkeys by some villagers.

However, it is not only monkeys that cause the infectious disease. Majority of cases are in fact transmitted from rats, squirrels, rodents and usually as a result of direct person-to-person contact or through blood and body fluids. During the first few days, symptoms can include nausea, headache, fever, back pains and in advanced cases, rashes bigger than those caused by chicken pox, though unlike Ebola, it is treatable and most patients usually recover.
Fortunately, no Nigerian has died as a result of the outbreak. The only challenge is that immune-compromised patients, especially children of the poor as well as those that are malnourished or suffering from lung disease may be more endangered. And as at present, there is no commercially available vaccine specifically for monkeypox.

When there was an outbreak of the much-dreaded Ebola virus in the country in 2014, many Nigerians as well as members of the international community commended the Lagos State Government and the federal health authorities for the swift response in dealing with the disease, ferried in from Liberia. The manner the response was coordinated at the time saved several lives and prevented what could have been a national calamity. But the same cannot be said of the 2015 outbreak of meningitis where the health authorities were evidently caught napping, thus leading to several fatalities. We hope sufficient lessons have been learnt from that ugly experience.

Washing hands regularly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser; avoiding contact with any material that has been in contact with a sick animal or person and isolating infected patients remain the best ways to avoid a spread of the virus.However, to the extent that it is the dirty habit of many Nigerians that has led to a situation in which rodents are everywhere, experts are agreed that there is a need for a sustained campaign to sensitise the populace on public health issues.
Therefore, since prevention is still far better than cure, we urge Nigerians to continue to observe good hygienic behaviour, especially given the causative factors of monkeypox.

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