Doctors urge caution, but add that monkeypox patients must not be stigmatised

Updated on Jul 27, 2022 01:09 AM IST

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is clinically less severe than smallpox.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared monkey pox as a global health emergency. (REUTERS)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared monkey pox as a global health emergency. (REUTERS)

With four cases of monkeypox confirmed across the country -- one of them in the national capital and three in Kerala -- health experts have urged people not to panic and reiterated that the infection is not as transmissible as Covid-19 and is unlikely to become a pandemic.

However, they also stressed that preventive measures such as masking, social distancing and immediately reporting any sign or symptom would help control its spread.

Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, senior consultant (internal medicine), Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, said monkeypox is known to spread primarily through close or intimate contact with the infected person. While there are cases of asymptomatic monkeypox, the occurrence is rare, he said.

“Look out for symptoms, because asymptomatic cases are not very common. The mode of transmission is contact with bodily fluids of the infected patient; even their clothes or bed linen, respiratory droplets, and from animals to humans,” Dr Chatterjee.

He also said death from monkeypox infection is not very common but children and immune-compromised people are more vulnerable to complications.

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is clinically less severe than smallpox.

The global health body on Saturday declared monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern”. Currently, there have been over 16,000 cases reported from 75 countries. India has four officially confirmed cases—three in Kerala and one in Delhi.

Dr Amita Gupta, chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the latest epidemiological data shows that the vast majority of infections to date have occurred among men who have sex with men, which includes gay and bisexual persons. However, transmission is likely to cover other vulnerable groups as well.

“The epidemiological data collected till date shows that the vast majority of infections have occurred among men who have sex with men. Many of them are in their 30s and have reported recent sexual contact. Very few cases to date have been reported in children, and pregnant women but ongoing surveillance is needed as the transmission is likely to continue and may reach these populations as well,” Dr Gupta said.

Health experts and activists are concerned that while global data does indicate such trends, in India, if cases and history of patients are not handled sensitively, it can also lead to the stigmatising of certain segments.

WHO on Monday said while cases have so far been concentrated primarily within the gay and bisexual communities, there is little evidence to suggest that the disease will remain confined to these groups.

Dr Satish Koul, director (internal medicine), Fortis Memorial Research Institute, said, “Commentary that has been reinforcing homophobic and racist stereotypes should be avoided. Anyone can get monkeypox and it is not a sexually transmitted disease. It can spread from close physical contact regardless of sexual orientation or race.”

He added, “Experience has shown us that stigmatising rhetoric can quickly disable evidence-based response by stoking cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, impeding efforts to identify cases, and encouraging ineffective, punitive measures.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Soumya Pillai covers environment and traffic in Delhi. A journalist for three years, she has grown up in and with Delhi, which is often reflected in the stories she does about life in the city. She also enjoys writing on social innovations.

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