Nima Wangdi

With international borders opening for visitors from September 23, Bhutan strengthened its surveillance against monkeypox spread, according to officials of the health ministry.

Neighbouring India already has reported four cases.

With the disease spreading rapidly in many countries, World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the disease to be public health emergency of international concern recently.

South-East Asia Region countries are asked to strengthen surveillance and public health measures.

Officials from the health ministry said the ministry developed a monkeypox management guideline and adopted it on June 2.

“Recognising the significance of prevention and control plans, all district health officers, chief medical officers, medical superintendents and other relevant agencies have been informed to implement measures immediately,” an official said.

Officials said any rash-like illness during travel or upon return should be immediately reported in the health declaration form at the point of entry.  “Clinicians or health workers should report suspected cases immediately through the national early warning alert response system.”

The same facilities used for isolation and quarantine for Covid-19 will be used for the monkeypox. According to officials, the ministry informed all health workers to keep updated with the latest events and information on monkeypox through reliable sources as part of the career up-gradation through self-learning.

They said that every case detected would be isolated to prevent further transmission with surveillance initiated at the point of entries.

“The Ministry of Health shall proactively communicate disease and outbreak information related to monkeypox and potential public health implications to the general public in a timely and transparent manner,” the official said. “The effort will be also put in to address vulnerable populations like kids as they are also considered to be a risk-group population in a community.”

Meanwhile, there is no specific treatment approved for monkeypox viral infections as of now. However, online sources state antivirals developed for use in patients with smallpox may prove beneficial.

WHO South-East Asia Region’s Director General, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Sing, said that with cases concentrated among men who have sex with men, it is possible to curtail further spread of the disease with focused efforts among at-risk populations.

More than 18,095 cases of monkeypox have been reported from 75 countries until July 25 and five died.

In the WHO South-East Asia region, five cases have been reported, four from India and one from Thailand, according to WHO.

WHO stated that engaging and protecting the affected communities; intensifying surveillance and public health measures; strengthening clinical management and infection prevention and control in hospitals and clinics; and accelerating research into the use of vaccines, therapeutics and other tools, are among the key measures that need to be scaled up.

Monkeypox virus is transmitted from infected animals to humans via indirect or direct contact. Human-to-human transmission can occur through direct contact with infectious skin or lesions, including face-to-face, skin-to-skin, and respiratory droplets. Transmission can also occur from contaminated materials such as linens, bedding, electronics, and clothing, that have infectious skin particles.

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA stated monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘Monkeypox.’ The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox.