The Geneva-based World Health Organization has declared the monkeypox outbreak, which has affected nearly 17,000 in 74 countries, to be a global health emergency, the highest alarm it can ring.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a committee of experts was unable to reach a consensus on whether the outbreak was a public health emergency of international concern, so he had to decide whether to trigger the highest alert possible – and he did.
The majority of reported cases are in the WHO European Region, with WHO/Europe remaining committed to partnering with countries and communities to address the outbreak with the required urgency.
There have been no confirmed or detected cases of monkeypox in the Philippines thus far, according to the Department of Health.
Health Office-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire has told a Laging Handa briefing that local government units continue to submit samples from “suspect cases” to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine for verification.
WHO in May 2022 reported outbreaks of monkeypox in non-endemic countries. From January to June 15, 2022, a total of 2,103 confirmed cases and one death due to the virus were logged in 42 countries, including those where monkeypox is endemic.
WHO said the risk at the global level is moderate “considering this is the first time that many monkeypox cases and clusters are reported concurrently in many countries in widely disparate WHO geographical areas, balanced against the fact that mortality has remained low in the current outbreak.”
We are exultant with the DOH’s assurance to the public that the government is prepared to handle a possible monkeypox outbreak, stressing it has been preparing with partners since the uptick in cases was reported in other countries last May.
At the same time, DOH has noted the Philippine Inter-agency Committee on Zoonosis has been convened, and the risk of monkeypox transmission is carefully communicated.
We are beside ourselves with encouragement that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine has successfully optimized its real-time PCR or polymerase chain reaction assay (test) for detecting the monkeypox virus since June 20.
But what is monkeypox?
Medical experts say this is an illness caused by the monkeypox virus, which occurs mostly in West and Central Africa, in a viral zoonotic infection, meaning it can spread from animals to humans and can also spread from person to person.
Previous cases in the United Kingdom had been either imported from countries where monkeypox is endemic or contacts with documented epidemiological links to imported cases.
Monkeypox can cause a range of signs and symptoms. While some people have mild symptoms, others may develop more serious symptoms and need care in a health facility.
Those at higher risk for severe disease or complications include people who are pregnant, children, and persons that are immunocompromised.
The most common symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, and swollen lymph nodes.
This is followed or accompanied by the development of a rash which can last for two to three weeks.
The rash can be found on the face, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, eyes, mouth, throat, groin, and genital and/or anal regions of the body.
Experts say the number of lesions can range from one to several thousand. Lesions begin flat, then fill with liquid before they crust over, dry up and fall off, with a fresh layer of skin forming underneath.
Symptoms typically last two to three weeks and usually go away on their own or with supportive care, such as medication for pain or fever.
People remain infectious until all of the lesions have crusted over, the scabs fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed underneath.
Anyone who has symptoms that could be monkeypox or who has been in contact with someone who has monkeypox should call or visit a health care provider and seek their advice.
Monkeypox spreads from person to person through close contact with someone who has a monkeypox rash, including through face-to-face, skin-to-skin, mouth-to-mouth, or mouth-to-skin contact, including sexual contact.
Medical authorities say they are still learning about how long people with monkeypox are infectious, but generally, they are considered infectious until all of their lesions have crusted over, the scabs have fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed underneath.