The announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the monkeypox outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern, comes as Colombia has registered 11 cases of a virus that was first identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the decades that followed human cases of monkeypox were reported in 11 African countries: Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and South Sudan. The first case outside Africa took place in 2003, in the United States, and was linked to human contact with infected pet prairie dogs.
According to WHO, Animal-to-human (zoonotic) transmission can occur from direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals. In Africa, evidence of monkeypox virus infection has been found in many animals including rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, different species of monkeys and others. The natural reservoir of monkeypox has not yet been identified, though rodents are the most likely. Eating inadequately cooked meat and other animal products of infected animals is a possible risk factor. People living in or near forested areas may have indirect or low-level exposure to infected animals.
“Human-to-human transmission can result from close contact with respiratory secretions, skin lesions of an infected person or recently contaminated objects. Transmission via droplet respiratory particles usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact, which puts health workers, household members and other close contacts of active cases at greater risk,” warned the global health authority.
With less than two weeks before the current government of President Iván Duque hands over power to the new administration of President-elect Gustavo Petro, outgoing Health Minister Fernando Ruíz emphasized that monkeypox is a disease that has been circulating in the world for more than 50 years, and has a relatively low-rate of contagion. “Monkeypox does not represent a threat of the dimension of COVID-19, but there is evidence from several countries in Europe there is also community transmission,” he added. From the 11 confirmed cases in the country, 10 originated outside the country.
“Right now we are in a phase of containment, which represents a very important opportunity for the country,” stated Ruíz. Likewise, the Minister pointed out that since last May 30, along with the National Institute of Health (INS), the country’s health professionals have intensified surveillance of the virus through PCR testing. “Colombians can be calm because there is sufficient capacity to make a diagnosis,” he confirmed. In the case of a positive result for monkeypox, self-isolation is estimated at 21 days given that this virus has a long incubation period.
There are nearly 3,000 cases of the disease in the United States, confirmed the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The Biden administration may consider declaring monkeypox a national health emergency, and increase testing for the virus.