Local testing for monkeypox could be available within weeks

Chief Medical Officer Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas
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The capacity to test for monkeypox could come on stream in Antigua and Barbuda within weeks.

In fact, training for testing for the virus has already begun and will continue this week with personnel from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) staff.

That’s according to Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas who, during an interview on Observer AM, revealed that due to measures the hospital’s lab put in place for Covid-19, the facility is more than capable of carrying out testing for monkeypox, since the same PCR test is used.

“One of the good things that came out of Covid-19 is that we have increased our capacity … at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre to test for viruses, and because we have the equipment and some of the supplies to test for viruses in Antigua, we are able to quickly adapt and get additional testing material.

“We are currently undergoing some training and tweaking of the equipment in order to test for the monkeypox virus,” the CMO said.

Monkeypox is a disease caused by an orthopoxvirus that belongs to the same family as the viruses that cause smallpox and cowpox.

Just a few days ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as an international public health emergency.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, muscle aches and backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.

A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appear on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, such as the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus, is also a sign that one may have contracted the virus.

Monkeypox can be spread from person-to-person through direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids, respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex.

Although it has been deemed an international health concern, Dr Sealey-Thomas is assuring residents that there is no need for a mass panic, like with the coronavirus, as it “has a low mortality rate” and “is not as highly transmissible as Covid-19”.

“It is unlikely that persons will be hospitalised. A lot of the cases, the disease is mild, symptoms last for about two to four weeks. Persons would probably just have to isolate at home, but we have to remember that if there are complications and a person has to go to the SLBMC, we do have the Infectious Disease Centre that would have to be put in use depending on the number of cases that we have hospitalised.

“But we do not expect a great number of hospitalisations from monkeypox,” she added.

The CMO further explained that because of those factors “it is unlikely that there will be a lot of deaths” which also means that there would be no need for any sort of national lockdown.

This, however, does not mean that residents should not remain vigilant, limit the amount of contact with persons and, if showing symptoms, isolate from family and friends and contact a local health official.

The outbreak worldwide has been particularly prevalent among men who have sex with men.

But the CMO continued, “You shouldn’t be complacent because although we are seeing it globally within a specific population, it has the potential to spread to other members of that population because of skin to skin contact.

“Persons who are not members of that population can also become infected and there has been instances where persons who are not members of that select population group have become infected,” Dr Sealy-Thomas said.

There are also certain protocols that officials at the country’s ports of entry should follow.

These protocols, according to Dr Sealey-Thomas, have already been disseminated and are being carried out.

To date, there are no confirmed cases of monkeypox in Antigua and Barbuda, but some Caribbean countries have registered confirmed and suspected cases.

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