Risk of monkeypox spreading in Singapore is low, say infectious disease experts

A monkeypox patient in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during an outbreak in 1997.
PHOTO: CDC/Brian W.J. Mahy

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans need not worry too much about monkeypox spreading among the population here, as the risk of it happening here is low, say infectious disease specialists.

"I'm not worried about it," said Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

"Monkeypox has been in other countries like the United Kingdom, and there were no local transmissions subsequently. It didn't happen there, and the chance of it happening in Singapore is low," he added.

On Thursday (May 9), the Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed one imported case of monkeypox - the first case reported here - involving a Nigerian national who arrived in Singapore on April 28.

The 38-year-old man is currently in an isolation ward at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and is in stable condition, MOH said.

Meanwhile, 22 of the 23 individuals who have been identified as close contacts of the man are also under quarantine as a precautionary measure.

The remaining contact left Singapore before the patient was diagnosed, but he has reported to MOH that he is well with no symptoms.

Singapore is the fourth country outside the African continent - and the first in Asia - to report a monkeypox case, according to the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, the United Kingdom saw three reported cases of monkeypox, two of which were unrelated imported cases among travellers who had visited Nigeria.

Similarly, Israel reported one case last year, an imported case involving a traveller who had also visited Nigeria.

In 2003, the United States saw 47 reported cases of monkeypox, which were attributed to a shipment of animals imported from Ghana.

Noting that these monkeypox cases did not cause secondary transmission in the countries, Dr Leong thinks secondary transmission will be unlikely here.

He also said it is not difficult to differentiate between monkeypox and the more common chickenpox, as the former would result in swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

The rashes that occur from monkeypox would also be "much bigger, more obvious", he said.

In its statement on Thursday, MOH said that monkeypox is usually self-limiting, and the risk of spread is low. Most patients usually recover in two to three weeks.

Common symptoms are fever, headache, muscle ache, backache, swollen lymph nodes and skin rash.

Monkeypox is mainly transmitted to humans by infected animals, typically rodents, through the hunting and consumption of bush meat - the meat of wild animals. It is a popular source of protein in some parts of Africa, where meat from domesticated animals are scarce or expensive.

MOH said on Thursday that before coming to Singapore, the man had attended a wedding in Nigeria, where he may have consumed bush meat.

The ministry added that human-to-human transmission of monkeypox, while possible, is limited.

A person is infectious only during the period when he has symptoms, particularly skin rash.

Infection typically occurs during close contact with the respiratory tract secretions or skin lesions of an infected person, or objects recently contaminated by an infected person's fluids or lesion materials.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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