What started as a lone case of suspected Monkeypox disease in Bayelsa State has, within a few weeks, spread to eleven more states with no less than 74 infections, according to the latest reports. Although, the casualty figure has been quite minimal, the rapid spread of the disease demands emergency management action from the federal, state and local governments. All hands must be on deck to combat this highly contagious disease.
Some of the affected states include Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ekiti, Lagos, Enugu, Nasarawa, Rivers and Abuja FCT. Like in previous epidemics, government should not be casual in tackling the disease and adequate measures should be put in place to ensure effective sample collection and testing to enable laboratory confirmation.
Luckily, most of the victims are not dying from the disease, except in a few cases. A victim who reportedly committed suicide in Bayelsa State might have done so out of frustration, maybe, due to lack of proper counseling.
All the suspected cases are currently receiving appropriate medical care and the patients are improving clinically, according to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). NCDC also says it has activated an Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) to coordinate the outbreak is investigation and response across the affected states.
Indications are therefore strong that the disease is gradually being contained. Indeed, some of the suspected cases have turned out to be negative after laboratory tests while a number of the confirmed victims have been discharged from hospital after treatment. But this is no reason to view the situation as less grim.
There should be no disposition, as was the case with Lassa fever not quite long ago, that the impact of the disease has not reached alarming level. That would be insensitive. The Ebola epidemic, in 2014, claimed just about three casualties in Lagos and a national emergency was declared, which helped to check the spread.
Authorities should, therefore, not wait for crisis to occur before waking up to their responsibilities. The proactive measures already put in place should be sustained to curb a public health concern that could debilitate a large segment of the population if unchecked. Nigerians move a lot around all parts of their country, which is why the disease could spread easily.
Given the propensity for a rapid spread and the lack of capacity in most states to contain the disease, the Federal Government should spearhead the battle.
What is needed, at this juncture, is not panic but precautionary hygienic measures by members of the public. All persons suspected of experiencing the symptoms should immediately report to the nearest health facility and be put in isolation.
Monkeypox is a rare viral zoonotic disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Symptoms begin with fever, headache, muscle pains, swollen lymph nodes and tiredness. This is then followed with rashes that form blisters and scabs over the body. The incubation period is around ten days but typically two to four weeks before presenting symptoms.
The virus is believed to circulate among certain rodents and squirrels. Eating these animals for food could be a source of transmission. Infection is diagnosed through testing a lesion for the virus DNA. The disease can appear similar to chickenpox.
The transmission could be via contact with infected animals, humans or contaminated materials. Animal to human transmission occurs through bites, scratch, body fluids from an infected person and bush meat preparation.
The disease, which is endemic in West and Central Africa, was first identified in 1958 among laboratory monkeys. The first case of human infection was found in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An outbreak that occurred in the United States in 2003 was traced to a pet store that sold imported Gambian rodents.
Control measures include isolation of suspected or confirmed cases, strict adherence to universal precautions, especially, frequent hand washing with soap and water and use of personal protective equipment.
The smallpox vaccination could prevent the infection considering that the two are closely related. But this has not been conclusively demonstrated as routine vaccination against smallpox was discontinued following the apparent eradication of smallpox.
At this juncture, there is need to educate members of the public. Adequate information on measures for prevention and control should be disseminated by all local governments, state Ministries of Health and even faith-based organizations which can easily reach the people. Personal and environmental hygiene are of course critical. Also, all health workers should adopt universal safety precautions in the management of suspected or confirmed cases by wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and wash hands after each contact with a patient or contaminated materials. Surveillance systems must also be strengthened.
Interestingly, the Lagos State Government has reportedly mobilised surveillance officers in the 57 Local Government Areas and Local Council Development Areas in the states and health workers in both public and private health facilities have been placed on high alert. This is an example the other states of the federation should follow.