As of May 21, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 92 laboratory-confirmed cases and twenty-eight suspected cases of monkeypox in 12 of its member states where the virus is not endemic.
Speaking in the House of Assembly yesterday, Penn said the outbreak has gained international attention because cases have been confirmed in several different countries at the same time and in persons with no reported travel history to countries where the virus is usually found.
“Additionally, while investigations are ongoing, initial information shows a high proportion of cases have been identified within sexual networks. Monkeypox, however, is not a sexually transmitted disease. It is transmitted by close contact with infected persons or articles that have been in close contact with infected persons,” Penn said.
The first case of the recent outbreak was announced on May 7 by the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The initial patient is thought to have contracted the infection during recent travel to Nigeria.
From May 6 to 20, there were twenty persons confirmed to have monkeypox in England.
“Since then, monkeypox cases have been reported outside of England in at least 11 other countries — Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United States,” Penn said.
Penn acknowledged that there is a risk for the disease to spread to the Caribbean because of travel. Therefore, he thinks it’s best to raise awareness among healthcare workers and port-health authorities across the region to ensure that adequate prevention and control measures are in place.
“There needs to be heightened communicable disease surveillance and monitoring of any reported cases of rash-like illness accompanied by fever. People with monkeypox initially develop symptoms such as exhaustion, fever, headaches, backache, muscle ache, chills, and swollen lymph glands,” Penn said.
“Rashes also develop within one to three days of fever onset; firstly on the face and then on the hands, feet, and other parts of the body. Symptoms can last two to four weeks, and severity depends on age. More severe disease occurs in young children,” the Health Minister continued.
He noted monkeypox is like smallpox and the smallpox vaccine offers some protection. However, Penn said the smallpox vaccine is not widely available and is no longer on the immunization schedule.
“Any guidance will be provided by PAHO/WHO on the matter, as necessary. Testing for monkeypox is currently not available in the Caribbean and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is reportedly in discussion with PAHO and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assess its capacity to develop this testing capability,” Penn said.
The Health Minister said CARPHA will inform the member states when the capability is available and how samples will be handled in due course.
“In terms of local response, the Ministry of Health will coordinate the dissemination of information to agencies involved in port health and animal quarantine, as well as healthcare providers and regional counterparts. Many of the specific recommended actions from CARPHA are in place in the BVI and strengthened in response to COVID-19,” Penn said
“Although the likelihood of monkeypox spread in our community is currently low, the Chief Medical Officer and other officials will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that the territory is prepared to detect and respond to any cases as needed, and will keep the community informed of any change in the situation,” the Health Minister added.