When monkeypox made a splash in the United Kingdom (UK) in May 2022, it felt like an isolated incident that would quickly pass like a social media trend. This was because the virus has been a largely African problem for decades.
But then it spread to a few other countries in Europe and North America. This August visitor was starting to cause of bit of a panic by popping up in strange places but health officials were still confident about easily containing it. But monkeypox said:
They were so wrong that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had to declare monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern on July 23rd 2022. By the time this happened, monkeypox had already hopped into dozens more countries across the world. It was like someone told the virus to feel at home and it took control of the TV remote.
Between May 2022 and August 2022, monkeypox cases climbed from a few dozens to over 30,000 in nearly 90 countries. The outbreak is the first wide outbreak of monkeypox outside of Central and West Africa.
And while many non-endemic countries have been worse-hit, endemic countries like Nigeria haven’t been having the best time too.
Monkeypox’s origin story in Nigeria
The WHO recorded the first case of monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1970.
Nigeria’s first large-scale monkeypox outbreak happened in 2017 when the virus caused a nationwide panic. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recorded 88 cases that year. The agency further recorded 49 cases in 2018, 47 cases in 2019, eight cases in 2020 and 34 cases in 2021. The annual case load was low enough that Nigeria didn’t need to sweat in monitoring the virus. Until 2022.
How monkeypox got its groove back in Nigeria
With monkeypox doing a rare worldwide tour in new locations, endemic countries like Nigeria heightened surveillance of the disease. And what that has shown is that 2022 is the worst year on record ever for monkeypox in the country.
While authorities recorded 226 cases in five years, they have have confirmed 157 cases between January and July 2022. The trend of the outbreak shows that the upsurge in cases didn’t start until May when the global trend started building.
In January, Adamawa, Imo and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) recorded one case each. In February, the NCDC confirmed one additional case in Lagos.
The NCDC confirmed six cases in March and five more in April. At this point, monkeypox was present in seven states, with Cross River, Kano and Delta joining the roster.
Rivers and Bayelsa joined the party when the NCDC found six more cases in May and one person died.
On May 26th, with monkeypox attracting more global attention, the NCDC activated a national emergency operations centre to improve response to the virus. This improved attention may have been responsible for what happened in June when the number of cases skyrocketed.
The NCDC confirmed 61 new cases between May 30th and July 3rd. Two more people died within this period, and the virus had already spread to 21 states in total.
An additional 72 cases popped up between July 4th and July 31st, leaving the total number of monkeypox cases in 2022 at 157 in 26 states. The total number of deaths also increased to four.
What was responsible for the surge, in the NCDC’s words?
Enhanced surveillance at national and subnational levels with improved case detection and reporting as well as the recent attention from the global outbreak have contributed in part or whole to the observed increase in cases which we have seen this year.
Since 2017, Nigeria has recorded a total of 383 monkeypox cases in 30 states and 12 deaths.
The only states not affected by the virus in Nigeria are Jigawa, Kaduna, Kebbi, Osun, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
How does monkeypox spread?
The monkeypox virus can spread from infected animals like monkeys, squirrels and rodents, to humans, usually through direct contact with body fluids, blood or the skin or lesions. Transmission can also happen through a bite, scratch, poor handling of, or consuming inadequately cooked or other products of infected bushmeat.
Monkeypox can also spread from human to human through contact with respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.
What are the monkeypox symptoms?
The symptoms of monkeypox include sudden fever, headache, body pain, weakness, sore throat, and enlargement of glands (lymph nodes) in the neck and under the jaw. The appearance of a rash on the face, palms, soles of the feet, genitals and other parts of the body is also possible.
The monkeypox fever can escalate the rash which tends to spread across the body of an infected person with the face and palms being the most affected. The rash can also occur in and around the genitals, which is why contact during sex is also a mode of transmission.
The illness from monkeypox usually lasts between two to four weeks.
How to protect yourself from monkeypox
There are many tips on how to protect yourself from monkeypox infection, but here are the highlights from the NCDC:
1. Avoid contact with host animals like monkeys, gorillas, squirrels and rodents, especially in areas where infections have been confirmed.
2. Avoid unnecessary physical contact with infected patients.
3. Practice frequent handwashing with soap and water especially after caring for, or visiting sick people.
4. Ensure all animal food products are properly cooked before eating.
5. Report all cases with the associated symptoms to the nearest health facility.
Is there a vaccine?
At least three vaccines which were developed as smallpox vaccines are considered suitable to fight the monkeypox outbreak.
The vaccination is strictly meant for those who have been exposed to monkeypox and people who may be more likely to be infected. But there’s a shortage of vaccines and poorer countries like Nigeria are at the back of the queue. This means, as a Nigerian, prevention is better than cure.