July 7, 2022

askST: Should Singaporeans worry about monkeypox?

By brit

SINGAPORE – Monkeypox cases continue to spring up in Europe and, on Wednesday (July 6), Singapore reported the first local case – a 45-year-old man who lives here. He is not linked to the country’s first imported case, which was announced on June 21, and contact tracing is ongoing, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Globally, there are now more than 6,000 cases recorded in 59 countries, with the epicentre currently in Europe. Experts are concerned because the virus is spreading from human to human, and cases are popping up in places that had not seen the virus previously. Monkeypox has been endemic in Central and West Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had deemed the outbreak not a public health emergency of international concern in late June. However, on Wednesday, its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he will hold a second meeting of the emergency committee on monkeypox during the week of July 18, or sooner if needed.

Q: Should Singaporeans worry about monkeypox?

A: Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said monkeypox is unlikely to become a global pandemic like Covid-19, as transmission requires close or prolonged physical contact with infectious persons or contaminated material.

The WHO said the spread from person to person has been known in the past to generally require prolonged close contact, such as face-to-face contact in close proximity, or skin-to-skin physical contact.

Mr Ong also said that monkeypox is typically a self-limiting illness where patients recover within two to four weeks. Some people can fall seriously ill or even die, and those particularly vulnerable to complications are young children, pregnant women or immuno-compromised individuals.

So far, though, the data from Europe, where the majority of monkeypox cases were reported, show that 99 per cent are men, and many self-identified themselves as men who have sex with men.

The WHO said the outbreak continues to primarily affect men who have sex with men who have reported recent sex with one or multiple male partners. This suggests that there is no signal of sustained transmission beyond these networks for now, it added.

Q: Why is monkeypox spreading a lot among men who have sex with men?

A: Sexual contact is an example of close physical contact, through which monkeypox is spreading.

There is currently no evidence to show that the disease is sexually transmitted, but direct skin-to-skin contact with lesions during sexual activities can spread the virus, said the WHO.

The risk of monkeypox is thus not limited to people who are sexually active or men who have sex with men, it added.

The WHO also said that monkeypox rashes are sometimes found on genitals and in the mouth, which is likely to contribute to transmission during sexual contact.

Furthermore, monkeypox rashes can resemble some sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes and syphilis. “This may explain why several of the cases in the current outbreak have been identified among men seeking care in sexual health clinics,” it said on its website.