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By now you must have heard that the growing monkeypox outbreak has been declared a new global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO). While the world is still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, will the declaration impact travel?
The short answer is no, but there are a few key facts you need to take into account when travelling. Most of the nearly 17,000 monkeypox cases reported so far are in Europe. Nearly 3,000 have been reported in the U.S., but the WHO and local doctors caution that these numbers may be much lower than actual figures due to underreporting.
Here’s what you need to know about the latest news on the disease and what impact it may have on global travel.
What is monkeypox?
Bear with us, we’re gonna get a bit technical here. Monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease that occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa and is occasionally exported to other regions. How to know you have monkeypox? The infection typically causes fever, rash, and swollen lymph nodes, and may lead to a range of medical complications.
Monkeypox is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as clothing, bedding, or other items used in healthcare settings.
In most cases, people typically recover within two to four weeks without needing to be hospitaliSed. In some cases, however, monkeypox can also be fatal.
Check out WHO’s comprehensive fact sheet on monkeypox here.
Avoid travel if you have symptoms
As we’ve learned from Covid, anyone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox or has signs and symptoms compatible with the virus infection should avoid any travel until they are no longer considered a public health risk. This is one of the ways that we can prevent the virus from spreading further and potentially escalating into a pandemic.
Some of the symptoms to look for include: fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and chills within five to 21 days. Then the distinctive rash and lesions can appear 1-3 days later, primarily around the face, hands, feet and genitals.
Are there any related travel restrictions and bans now?
Currently, no countries have applied any travel-related monkeypox restrictions and bans. As per the WHO, any person with suspected monkeypox disease should isolate during the presumed or known infectious period, i.e., during the initial symptoms and rash phases of the illness.
But, do note that the following counties have implemented an isolation period for individuals who come into contact with the disease:
Belgium has been the first country to implement a compulsory 21-day monkeypox quarantine for those who have contracted the disease. All monkeypox patients are legally required to self-isolate for three weeks.
So far, the monkeypox cases in the U.K. has crossed the 1000 mark with the cases rising rapidly over the weeks. The Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has advised those at high risk of catching the disease (including household contacts and medical professionals) to self-isolate for 21 days. However, no one in the U.K. with a confirmed case of monkeypox is required to self-isolate by law. For detailed guidelines on monkeypox self-isolation, please visit the UK health security agency portal.
The decentralized public health organization in the Netherlands (GGD) announced that anyone who has come into contact with a monkeypox patient would be required to quarantine for up to three weeks. The GGD keeps in touch with people in isolation and has requested that they take their temperature every day and stay alert for symptoms.
United Arab Emirates
The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has issued isolation guidelines, for confirmed cases in the UAE. Individuals showing symptoms of the virus are required to undergo a PCR test and if positive, they must self-isolate either at home or in the institutional isolation facility for 21 days. Those who have been in contact with infected patients will also need to confine themselves in a single room for a period of 21 days. If they show symptoms of the disease, they must visit the nearest medical centre or hospital and get themselves tested.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has advised travellers to consult a health-care professional or visit a travel health clinic at least six weeks before travelling outside Canada. Anyone showing symptoms of the Monkeypox virus should delay their travel and isolate themselves. The travel notice applies to 27 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Spain.
The Caribbean Island nation has received a monkeypox alert by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and decided to implement a quarantine period for any suspected cases. The Ministry of Health has stated that anyone showing symptoms of the monkeypox virus shall be placed in quarantine and monitored by the Home Monitoring Team of clinicians over a 21-day period.
Where has monkeypox been detected?
As of late, it’s been reported that the following countries have confirmed cases of monkeypox:
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Canada, Canary Islands, Cameroon, Congo, Chile, Czech Republic, Czechia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Ghana, Gibraltar, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, India, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Morocco, Mexico, Nigeria, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sudan, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, UAE, UK, USA and Venezuela.
So far, Malaysia has not reported any cases of monkeypox. But all travellers coming from countries reporting monkeypox cases must complete a card in the MySejahtera app and will receive pop-up messages daily, says Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
Meanwhile, Singapore has reported 9 monkeypox cases since June, where four are imported and five are local. None of the cases so far are linked. Get the updated information on the Ministry of Health website.
You can also keep up to date with the 2022 Monkeypox Outbreak Global Map.
How can I avoid monkeypox?
Monkeypox spreads through direct contact and exchange of fluids between humans, or humans and animals. Blood, bodily fluids, the mucous from lesions, and even bedding and clothes infused with those substances can spread the virus, according to a U.S. CDC advisory.
To help lower your chances of catching monkeypox, the U.S. CDC strongly recommends these important steps:
- Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people with a rash that looks like monkeypox.
- Do not touch the rash or scabs of a person with monkeypox.
- Do not kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with someone with monkeypox.
- Do not share eating utensils or cups with a person with monkeypox.
- Do not handle or touch the bedding, towels or clothing of a person with monkeypox.
- General health recommendations apply as well: wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitiser when in a public setting. To be safe, avoid close contact with others and reduce skin-to-skin contact.
Is there a vaccine against monkeypox?
Mass vaccination against monkeypox is not recommended by Singapore’s Ministry of Health after WHO declares it a global health emergency. The benefits of mass vaccination against monkeypox do not outweigh the risk, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung after the WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
“As of now, given the self-limiting nature of the disease, MOH does not recommend the mass vaccination of the whole population against monkeypox, because the benefits do not outweigh the risk,” Mr Ong said in a Facebook post.
The U.S. uses two types of smallpox vaccine to fight monkeypox as past data suggest these vaccines could be 85% effective against that virus as well. In the current outbreak, the U.S CDC says there is no available data on the effectiveness of either vaccine.
Meanwhile, the U.S. CDC says those who have been exposed to monkeypox and haven't had a smallpox vaccine within three years should get one sooner than later. The agency recommends individuals get inoculated within four days of exposure and no later than two weeks to reduce symptoms.
So, while there are no travel restrictions in place for monkeypox, do be mindful of your personal hygiene and if you’re exhibiting symptoms, avoid any travelling. Be safe!