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UAE health experts urge caution after first case of monkeypox detected

Published: Updated:

Doctors in the United Arab Emirates have urged caution after the first case of monkeypox was detected in the country.

The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) reported on Tuesday the first case of monkeypox, becoming the first Gulf country to detect the disease.

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The patient is a 29-year-old visitor from a West African country and she is receiving the required medical care in the UAE, the official WAM news agency said.

Dr Karthikeyan Dakshinamurthy, a specialist in internal medicine at NMC Royal Hospital Dubai Investment Park, told Al Arabiya English that while the UAE has precautions in place, more cases of monkeypox are likely to be found.

“Monkeypox disease is a viral zoonotic disease that is seen in central and west African nations,” said the doctor.

“The recent surge of cases in non-African nations suggests that it possesses a global threat. Since the UAE is a travel hub with lots of tourists, the likelihood of importing the disease has to be considered.”

The disease is transmitted through direct contact with body lesions, fluids, contaminated clothes or beddings, and respiratory droplets.

Although it’s not as contagious as other viral infections, the transmission rate is still as high as 30 percent, cautioned Dr Dakshinamurthy.

“The UAE government has started the surveillance program with RT-PCR test for suspected cases, isolation of confirmed cases and contact tracing.

“There is no specific antiviral medication available for the disease.

“Though it is a self-limiting disease, severe complications can occur in 10 percent of infected persons, especially children. So as always said prevention is better than cure to extinguish this disease.”

Dr Neema Madhusoodanan Nambiar, GPat Bareen International Hospital – MBZ City, said Monkeypox infection can be transmitted by the affected person from animals to humans via contact with infected body fluids, bites or scratches.

“Monkeypox can also be transmitted directly by an infected person through direct contact with skin lesions, body fluids, and respiratory droplets.

“Infected individuals can be contagious from 1 day before the onset of the rash to 21 days after the first symptoms, or until all skin lesions become scabs and the other symptoms disappear.

“The Department of Health – Abu Dhabi alongside all medical facilities in the UAE have taken all precautions to identify symptoms and report them to authorities without delay. Educating the general public about monkeypox to raise awareness of risk factors and reduce exposure to the virus is the most important part of prevention strategy.”

Dr Mukesh Kumar Shewak Ram, a specialist in internal medicine at Dubai’s Canadian Specialist Hospital, also spoke to Al Arabiya English.

He said symptoms of monkeypox usually include a fever (usually 38.5-40.5°C) accompanied by chills, drenching sweats, severe headache, backache, myalgia, malaise, anorexia, prostration, pharyngitis, shortness of breath, and cough.

“Monkeypox is a viral (zoonotic) disease (a virus transmitted to humans from animals). It is caused by the monkeypox virus which belongs to the orthopoxvirus genus of the Poxviridae family.

“The first known human case occurred in Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970, when a nine-year-old boy developed smallpox-like illness, which was eventually confirmed as human monkeypox by the World Health Organization.”

Monkeypox was limited to the rain forests of central and western Africa until 2003. In late spring 2003, multiple cases were identified in the Midwestern United States.

However, in recent weeks nearly 20 countries where monkeypox is not endemic have reported recent outbreaks of the viral disease, with more than 230 confirmed or suspected infections, mostly in Europe.

“Outbreaks in western and central Africa have been linked to exposure to rats, rabbits, squirrels, monkeys, porcupines, and gazelles,” said Dr Ram. “Inhabitants of remote tropical rain forests may become infected from direct contact while capturing, slaughtering, and/or preparing these animals for food; ingestion has also been linked to infection. Consumption of such so-called ‘bush meat’ is particularly hazardous since the flesh is often undercooked.”

He said transmission can occur from contact with ill animals or animal reservoirs from Western Africa (eg, prairie dogs, rabbits, rats, mice, squirrels, dormice, monkeys, porcupines, gazelles), or preparing or ingesting infected animals.

Finally, transmission can also occur with direct cutaneous (skin-to-skin) or respiratory contact with an animal or person who is infected can transmit the infection.

The incubation period averages 12 days, ranging from four to 20 days.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said monkeypox is “usually a self-limited disease with the symptoms lasting from two to four weeks.”

However, WHO added that severe cases can occur, with a fatality ratio of approximately three to six percent.

The UAE ministry stressed that health authorities in the country were taking all the necessary measures including investigation, examination of contacts and follow-up.

“The ministry confirmed that, in cooperation with health authorities, it follows an epidemiological surveillance mechanism in accordance with the highest international practices to ensure sustainable efficiency and protect society from communicable diseases and quickly discover cases and work to limit the local spread of all diseases and viruses, including monkeypox,” WAM reported.

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