Regional health officials are urging residents to remain alert to the symptoms of monkeypox amid a number of cases confirmed across the Caribbean.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency’s (CARPHA) Senior Technical Officer Angela Hinds said the issue should be a concern to “all of us”.
“Communities are to be on alert. We want persons to be alert and aware of the virus and its possible circulation,” she said.
“Most importantly, we want persons to learn more about how the monkeypox is affecting your community and how you can contract it and therefore make informed decisions.
“Of course, we are asking everyone to remain vigilant, conduct self-examinations, seek medical attention if symptoms appear, especially if you are aware of a known exposure,” Hinds said.
To date, around 19,000 people have been infected with monkeypox in regions worldwide where cases had not previously been reported.
CARPHA said it had confirmed nine cases in the Caribbean which include three in the Dominican Republic, two in Jamaica, and one each in the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda and Martinique. All cases have a history of travel.
A larger percentage of monkeypox cases have been identified in Europe, with the majority of infected persons aged between 18 and 50.
Hinds cautioned residents not to stigmatise people due to the nature of transmission as there have now been cases of mother to child transmission, as well as contact with objects.
“There have been a fair number of cases that are within the men who have sex with men population. However, stigmatisation and discrimination with this community or persons who have the lesions or rash can potentially be a deterrent to persons coming forward to access services,” she explained.
“We want and we ask that we guard against stigmatisation. Transmission is not exclusive to the men who have sex with men. Stigmatisation could disrupt efforts and mitigate the spread of monkeypox,” Hinds added.
On July 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox to be a public health emergency of international concern.
The smallpox vaccine is at least 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox but the risk of movement to the animal population would risk the virus becoming endemic to regions outside of historically known areas.
WHO considers the risk of exposure to monkeypox to be moderate at the global level except for in Europe which accounts for a larger number of reported cases.
Like any virus, there are challenges with detection and monitoring. This is no different for officials at CARPHA.
“If somebody has been exposed, unless they have the lesions there is no way to do an early confirmatory test of whether that person is positive or not.
“There is also the difficulty of contact tracing given that there are multiple persons, multiple contacts and sometimes these contacts are anonymous.
“There is a potential drain and we are already stretched and fatigued coming out of the pandemic and it continues. Our health services are quite stretched,” Hinds said.
She added that CARPHA can test 100 samples per week for regional countries using a swab of the fluid from lesions.