The World Health Organization (WHO) is keeping a close eye on
monkeypox, a rare viral disease previously limited to Africa, after a
recent string of cases emerged across other continents.
Cases of monkeypox have been detected in Australia, Belgium, Canada,
France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the UK and
the US. Between 13 to 21 May, there are 92 people confirmed with the
virus worldwide, but no associated deaths to date.
Particularly puzzling is that these reported cases have no
established travel links to an endemic area, good news for the travel
industry and travellers who have trips lined up. Studies have uncovered
that majority of these cases are linked to men who have sex with men,
seeking treatment in primary care and sexual health clinics.
This disease that is characterised by large, bumpy rashes which
typically start from the face and eventually spread to all areas of the
body is typically transmitted from one person to another by close
contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated
As of 21 May 2022, WHO has identified 92 confirmed cases, and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox. Photo Credit: World Health Organization
Though human-to-human transmission is rare, travellers are still
encouraged to exercise caution by practising personal hygiene, avoiding
contact with wild animals and refrain from consuming bush meat. The WHO
has identified the following symptoms of those infected with monkeypox:
• Fever above 38.5°C
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Back pain
Monkeypox is endemic in countries Benin, Cameroon, the Central
African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana
(identified in animals only), Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, the
Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone. Travellers returning from these
endemic countries or other destinations affected by the virus are urged
to seek medical attention should they develop any symptoms.
Should travellers be worried about monkeypox?
Infectious disease experts in Singapore believe that monkeypox is not
a cause of concern currently as the chances of widespread transmission
is much lower than SARS and Covid-19. They further noted that the global
spread of monkeypox could have stemmed from the rebound in
the world, governments have issued health notices urging travellers to
take necessary precautions, including maintaining a high standard of
personal hygiene, avoiding direct contact with skin lesions of infected
living or dead persons or animals.
Travellers should also avoid contact with wild animals such as small
mammals including rodents (rats, squirrels) and non-human primates
(monkeys, apes). They should avoid consumption of bush meat or using
products derived from wild animals from Africa (creams, lotions,
The risk to the general public is low, but travellers should seek
medical care immediately if the develop any disease symptoms within
three weeks of their return from areas affected by monkeypox.
The WHO is already working on deploying vaccination for monkeypox,
where available, to stop further spread and protect frontline workers.