This week’s development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the announcement by the Ministry of Health and Wellness that monkeypox has been detected in Jamaica.
The story then took a short, bizarre and chaotic twist on Saturday, as the patient who was in Clarendon, absconded a health facility there. Some reports suggested that the patient was in isolation at the May Pen Hospital in Clarendon.
The man was subsequently found by the police and health officials at a house belonging to a close relative of his, and was taken back into isolation.
The close relative of the patient is now in quarantine.
Details on the patient’s escape from the Health and Wellness Ministry were that after midday on Saturday, the patient, who presented to the public health system on July 5, having arrived in Jamaica some five days earlier from the United Kingdom, left through a bathroom window of the facility and had a car waiting.
There were reports, too, that the man had told other hospitalised persons of his plan to leave the health facility, as he reportedly indicated that he had not spent a large sum of money to come Jamaica to “not enjoy himself”.
The police launched a search for the suspect, and health officials appealed to persons not to harm the individual if he was located.
The news of the then escaped patient with monkeypox generated chaos and uproar across social media, with several persons calling for the photograph of the man to be released, and for Clarendon to be placed under a form of lockdown to curtail any potential spread of the virus.
“Just publish his name and face. He’ll be found sooner that way,” @coolieboyrhaj tweeted.
“Where was (were) the security guards at the time? This is clearly a sign of negligence by hospital,” commented Shanice J Bell on Facebook.
Rick Foster commented that, “Clarendon needs an SOE now, now to locate the man. What kind of carelessness this? How him make call and gone through window?”
Reacting to the patient’s subsequent readmission to isolation, Christopher Shakes wrote: “They need to charge him and set an example to others who would like to endanger others.”
Donarene Morris-Henry questioned: “How many has he infected now? Give us grace Lord.”
Before the weekend chaos, the country was continuing to return to normal after two years of curfew measures and mandated mask-wearing, due to COVID-19.
Then came the news on Wednesday that another virus of international interest – monkeypox – had found its way to Jamaica.
One of the main symptoms of the disease is skin rash.
Some Jamaicans have already expressed that they are not concerned about the virus, citing information from health officials that the disease is not as severe as COVID-19, and has a low fatality rate globally.
The Government, through remarks by Health and Wellness Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, has already signalled that it will be business as usual relative to the management of monkeypox.
Simply put, there will be no more lockdowns as was the case with the management of COVID-19, Tufton disclosed at Wednesday’s emergency press conference to announce the arrival of the virus on Jamaican shores via the Clarendon man who recently travelled from the United Kingdom.
Monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease that is spread primarily through animals. While person-to-person spread is uncommon, it may occur through direct contact with an infected individual.Infection typically results in a number of symptoms, including fever, back pain and muscle pain, and the formation of lesions and skin rashes.
More than 6,000 cases of monkeypox have now been reported from 58 countries in the current outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday, July 6.
A majority of the cases, approximately 80 per cent, are from Europe, the health agency said in an update also on Wednesday, the same day that Jamaica announced its first case.
The agency said, too, that it will reconvene a meeting of the committee that will advise on declaring the outbreak a global health emergency, the WHO’s highest level of alert, in the week beginning July 18 or sooner, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference from Geneva.
At its previous meeting on June 27, the committee decided that the outbreak, which has seen cases rising both in the African countries where it usually spreads, and globally, was not yet a health emergency.
“I continue to be concerned by the scale and spread of the virus across the world,” Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying by the Associate Press (AP).
He noted that a lack of testing meant that there were likely many more cases going unreported, adding that around 80 per cent of cases are in Europe.
In breaking the news of monkeypox locally, Tufton implored Jamaicans to remain calm, as health authorities are capable of treating and tracking the virus, due to its relatively mild nature.
“I am confident that given the nature of the virus, (and) given the nature of the virus globally, to date, discovering one case doesn’t make or create a crisis,” he said at the ministry’s emergency virtual press briefing on Wednesday.
Tufton said there was always the possibility that the country would record a case of monkeypox, given that the country’s borders were opened and other countries continued to record cases of the virus.
“Having said that, we do believe that we have the capacity to respond and, particularly, if Jamaicans play their part. And so, I do not envision the kind of response to the novel coronavirus when it came on board in March 10, 2020,” he asserted.
“I believe that we can manage this current threat, and if we play our part, we can manage it in a way where we can continue to live our normal existence, whether (at) play or otherwise.
Dr Christopher Tufton
“I would say to Jamaicans, just play your part. God knows the country cannot deal with another extremity. We have a lot of side effects to this point from the COVID-19 pandemic. So, we are not only going to pray and ask God for guidance, but we gonna work to ensure that kind of guidance is taken advantage of by ourselves, and the role that we play,” insisted Tufton.
In declaring that “it is business as usual in terms of the functioning of the economy”, Tufton said Prime Minister Andrew Holness has been notified of the health development.
“The honourable prime minister and I spoke, and he is ready and always able to provide the leadership and guidance that is necessary,” said Tufton, adding that Cabinet had also been informed of the development.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, in also seeking to soothe the fears of Jamaicans, informed that the disease is milder than “what we are used to, and what we are seeing so far across the world”.
She said the same measures that were used to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing a mask and physical distancing, are to be used in preventing the transmission of monkeypox.
Covering skin rashes is also of utmost importance.
Bisasor-McKenzie said the man who tested positive for monkeypox is from Clarendon, but there is no risk posed to the communities there, as all close contacts of the positive individual are presently in quarantine.
“This is the reason for not panicking; we don’t anticipate any risk. Our persons are on the ground as usual. We are very good at contact tracing, and we will uncover the cases and we will do our work to minimise the chance of spread to the population,” she outlined.
“This is a mild disease and it does require very close contact for transmission. Those are other reasons why persons should not panic. If you become sick, this is something that you can see, and therefore, you are spurred to action immediately in terms of isolating yourself,” indicated Bisasor-McKenzie.
In chiming into that leg of her response, Tufton warned that, “Panic leads to chaos… and we are not promoting chaos.
“We are promoting responsible behaviour in light of the new development,” he said, while urging persons with symptoms to present to a medical facility.
Tufton said the spread of monkeypox may occur when a person comes into close contact with an infected animal or rodents.
Person-to-person spread is generally uncommon, but can occur through direct contact with monkeypox skin lesions or scabs, contact with clothing or sheets or towels used by an infected person, as well as from cough or sneezing of an infected individual.
The virus enters the body through broken skin, even if not visible, or the mucus membranes (eyes, nose or mouth).
“The incubation period, as we understand it, is between five and 21 days. Symptoms, usually mild to moderate, can include fever, intense headaches, swelling of the lymph nodes, back pains, swelling, rash,” stated Tufton.
Noticeable, some monkeypox cases overseas were being identified in persons engaged in certain sexual practices, including homosexuality.
Asked a question on that issue at Wednesday’s press briefing, Bisasor-McKenzie was quick to stress that monkeypox is not a sexual transmitted disease, but is rather a virus that is transmitted through any close encounter.
In elaborating on that point, the CMO explained that while scientists were studying whether the virus is transmitted through sexual fluids, there has been no confirmation of that to date.
“First of all, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease. The lesions and rashes – they can be present on any part of the body, including the genitalia. And therefore, they will spread through close personal contacts,” she informed.
Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie
“However, we have noted, and scientists all over the globe have noted this connection, and are, of course, investigating this connection to see if there is actual transmission through sexual fluids. However, we have not had any confirmation of that as yet,” Bisasor-McKenzie indicated.
Still, she stressed that it is possible that close sexual contacts with rashes can pass on the virus to others.
“… But close contacts, including sexual contact, which we all know is close, will pass on the disease if it is that you have the vesicles present.
“So, I want to reassure the public that this is not a sexual transmitted disease. It is a close-contact transmission that can occur in any kind of close encounter,” the CMO declared.
In relation to whether the sexual history of the man who tested positive for monkeypox in Clarendon is being probed, she did not respond directly to whether that will be done.
She, however, emphasised that the sexual history of any patient forms part of a doctor’s “history-taking”.
“… And, of course, in doing public health investigations, we do pay particular attention to our history-taking, and make sure all our bases are covered,” the CMO stated.
Turning to partygoers and persons looking forward to entertainment activities this summer, Bisasor-McKenzie advised them to adhere to the COVID-19 protocols in order to avoid contracting monkeypox.
“So for everybody who is planning to go out there and party, I should hope that they bear this in mind: that close contact is still something that is to be avoided, and to use your precautions – the wearing of masks, sanitising, (and) handwashing frequently to prevent contact,” she advised.
She also called on persons to stay home and desist from venturing to such events once they start developing symptoms of monkeypox, including lesions on the face, fever, body aches and chills.
“Once you recognise that you start to have a rash, then there is the possibility of monkeypox, (and) even more reason for you to stay home,” warned Bisasor-McKenzie.
Though Government health officials and the portfolio minister remained adamant that the virus is of low risk to citizens, Opposition Spokesman on Health, Dr Morais Guy, called for comprehensive contact tracing and isolation to be done of all the persons the infected patient interacted with.
“We have been advised that the quarantine of those contacts has been in place, but what needs to be interrogated is what other places and environment the traveller went to prior to the symptoms developing,” he said in a media interview on Thursday.
According to Guy, he was also disappointed that the island’s isolation facilities were just being assessed, as was announced by Tufton at Wednesday’s press conference.
“I would have expected that it would have been done prior, so that everything would go seamlessly… It would seem now, based on how he (Tufton) presented, that nothing was done and now we are running around looking like chickens that have lost our heads,” chided Guy.
Dr Morais Guy
Still, public health specialist, Dr Alverston Bailey, emphasised that there is no need for criticisms or alarm, as the presence of the virus should not cause chaos locally.
“The good news is that of the 6,027 cases (globally of monkeypox), only three persons have died,” Bailey said in a radio interview.
Another medical doctor, Leslie Meade, who is the President-elect of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), said it is crucial that the island’s surveillance for monkeypox remains effective, to contain any potential spread.
“We need to be able to detect persons who are coming in, and we need to also check those who are coming into our healthcare facilities early, because that is where we will be able to do the contact tracing that is necessary, and isolating the contacts (of any positive patients),” Meade said during a radio interview.
For Bailey, the fact that the WHO has been issuing bi-weekly updates on monkeypox globally, all public health professionals locally should be aware of the virus’ symptoms, the prevention protocols and treatments.
“Therefore, we (the doctors) are well informed and ready to deal with the virus,” he said.
Meade agreed, and pointed out that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has been educating the doctors in the public sector, in particular, and bulletins have been issued to all senior medical officers (SMOs) at hospitals.
“We at the MAJ are also in the process of organising a webinar to really get our private care and public physicians up to speed… The information is available, and all our members are encouraged to get up to speed with the information on the WHO and PAHO websites,” he informed.
As various perspectives from the medical community continue to emerge surrounding the announced presence of monkeypox in Jamaica, the perspectives from Jamaicans in general were varied.
Facebook user, John Wood, questioned: “How much people will now spread this virus ’cause remember we nuh have no discipline?”
Roque New Brown, in response to that remark, commented: “Plus its summer holidays”.
Susan Smith stated that, “Well back inside for me then, because I can’t take no more virus”.
There were others who said that neither coronavirus nor monkeypox would stop them from enjoying the summer period.
“A could a monkeypox, COVID, dengue or anything. Nothing not stopping me from take to the beach over this summer. So come again deh Tufton with this news,” wrote Arlene Reid.
It’s party time, monkeypox or no monkeypox, say some people.
“Right now is carnival, my ting dat, and party, party this summer. Monkey who? Don’t care,” commented Orlando Ritchie.
Still, there were some persons who were skeptical about Tufton’s plea for calm after the single case of the disease was recorded locally.
“That’s what was said the first time a case of COVID-19 was discovered here: ‘No need to panic’… Then it started spreading like wildfire and all kinds of stuff started happening… Curfew and the whole works,” stated Koyak Wahs.
Chris Lewis wrote: “I do get the salient point the minister is driving – the nation shouldn’t panic – but when he used the premise “business as usual” to drive that point, it creates a scenario that he is tone-deaf.
“The minister seems to think the economy can be healthy if the citizens become unhealthy. Tell the citizens that monkeypox in Jamaica is concerning, but if everyone take necessary precautions, then there is no need to panic,” stated Lewis.
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