No magic wand
monkeypox test sample

It's early days yet, and information is limited; however, news yesterday that the authorities are investigating a suspected monkeypox-related death is cause for extreme concern.

Readers will recall that Jamaica had its first case of monkeypox in July a visitor from Britain.

In its latest update, the Ministry of Health and Wellness reported five new cases of the disease, bringing the total confirmed infections locally to 12.

Much is still being learnt about it, however, experts say the symptoms are similar to those characteristic of smallpox, but are milder. Monkeypox is said to be rarely fatal.

The signs and symptoms associated with the disease include fever, chills, intense headache, extreme exhaustion, muscle and backaches, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that usually appears one to three days after the onset of the fever.

Even should tests prove that the death under investigation did not result from monkeypox, yesterday's news comes as re-affirmation of the need for the Jamaican Government and people to double up on prevention measures.

In theory, the experience of having to deal with the novel coronavirus — which is still very much with us and is continuing to claim lives — should be enough to alert Jamaicans to the new danger.

The authorities have consistently said that safety measures such as social distancing and mask wearing, used to contain the spread of COVID-19, also apply for monkeypox which all seem to agree is much less contagious.

The trouble is that, like people everywhere, Jamaicans are being afflicted by pandemic fatigue. Worn down by the experiences of the past two and a half years and emboldened by closure of the disaster risk management measures, many people have abandoned mask wearing, social distancing, and hand sanitising. Indeed, the embrace as a form of greeting is again in vogue.

The very necessary return to physical school and everyday business activity have obviously made containment measures more difficult to implement.

The obvious danger is that the dropping of our guard could lead to not only easier transmission of monkeypox and whatever else may be out there, but a resurgence of even more deadly strains of the coronavirus.

We note word from Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton that Jamaica is set to receive a limited supply of monkeypox vaccines by the end of September, facilitated through collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Dr Tufton said, "Only approximately 3,500 doses of the vaccine have been promised to us," and that "we may not receive this amount, as... the vaccine is in high demand with very limited supply".

The minister explained that the vaccines would be administered "only to persons who come into close contact with a diagnosed patient. These persons would include health-care workers involved in direct care of monkeypox patients… and household contacts of confirmed cases, to include sexual partners..."

In any case, it seems to us that public scepticism and very low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in the Jamaican population suggest much the same would probably apply to the monkeypox vaccine.

Like it or not, there is no magic wand. Jamaicans are left with no choice but to embrace behavioural safety protocols, similar to those for COVID-19, to combat monkeypox.

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