Travel TrendsThe recent global spread of monkeypox has raised alarm in the travel sector — but how valid are these concerns?

Everyone's talking about monkeypox — should travellers be worried?

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Monkeypox has not been associated with travels to endemic regions.
Monkeypox has not been associated with travels to endemic regions. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/metamorworks

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 materials.

As of 21 May 2022, WHO has identified 92 confirmed cases, and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox.
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:
• Headache
• Fever above 38.5°C
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Back pain
• Lethargy

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 international travel.

Around 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, powders).

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.

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