Health Ministry set to deal with any monkeypox cases

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Roshan Parasram

THERE is a moderate risk of monkeypox entering the country, said Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram at Wednesday’s Health Ministry virtual media conference.

He explained that while there were no definite determinants to predict the virus entering Trinidad and Tobago, people in countries which have cases also have engaged in frequent travel between them.

At least 16 countries have been identified as having monkeypox, including the west and central Africa, the US, the UK, Canada, Belgium, Australia, and Nigeria, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

Parasram said, “Once there is movement of people from one part of the world to the next, there tends to be movement of disease.

“The rating for the region of the Americas that has been put through the IHR (international health regulations) mechanism is probably moderate risk at this point in time, and that will change as time goes on.

“There are cases in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. We have frequent travel to those areas, so moderate risk is probably the best assessment so far.”

He said there were already mechanisms in place to assist with control of the virus, if detected in TT, and while the monkeypox virus varied from the covid19 virus, mask-wearing which is already enforced, can help reduce any potential spread.

“It is a different virus, it spreads differently from covid19: it generally spreads by close contact, and by respiratory droplet as well,” he explained.

But he added: “We have to bear in mind the things we already have in place, like mandatory mask-wearing and other guidelines that would help us as a population.

“We will certainly be looking at quarantine as a measure that could be used in terms of decreasing the risk of spread if we do detect cases and depending on the scope and scale of it.”

Parasram said for monkeypox the incubation period was five-21 days, as compared to covid19’s 14 days.

“If there were to be a quarantine period it would be 21 days to ensure there is no further spread. I think it is a little bit early to say what form or fashion the quarantine will take, and if we are looking at primary or secondary contacts,” he said.

Parasram added the authorities were working with Carpha to develop a testing strategy for the region, but there was already a mechanism in place to detect such diseases.

“In the meantime, and for any tropical disease they (Carpha) have a process in place where the sample goes through the Trinidad Public Health lab to Carpha and then to the CDC. Their turnaround time is anywhere between seven-ten days to have that result back to us,” he said.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the Government has been actively pursuing vaccines and monitoring the development of the monkeypox virus.

He said after a meeting on Friday, it has looked at various mechanisms to ensure correct information about the virus was given to the public and action was taken to detect it in the country.

“We are asking persons to be wary of contact, especially close, physical contact, with anyone in any of the countries reporting positive cases. We re-energised and re-emphasised the screening at our ports of entry, because one of the symptoms of monkeypox, I believe, is fever.

“There is a possible vaccine for it. We are in the marketplace for that vaccine.

“However, the vaccination strategy as it stands now, for monkeypox, is not a general, population-wide strategy like covid19. Basically, if there is a suspect or confirmed case of monkeypox, you vaccinate the immediate circle, the immediate contacts of that person.”

He added that the Government was seeking out the Jynneos vaccine and an antiviral drug called tecovirimat for symptomatic treatment.

With some covid19 travel conditions being lifted, Deyalsingh said the ministry was not yet considering issuing any restrictions for countries with cases of monkeypox.

PAHO/WHO country representative Dr Erica Wheeler said there were 158 confirmed cases and 117 suspected cases in 19 non-endemic countries.

She said there were no confirmed deaths to date and no reported cases in the Caribbean.