Stages of monkeypox lesion development                                                            Photo: Wikipedia (The UK Government)

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has commenced the usage of the MySejahtera app for monkeypox surveillance beginning 27 May, Khairy Jamaluddin said, amid the spread of the rarely fatal contagious disease in several countries.

The health minister said new features on the government Covid-19 mobile app include an alert for travellers arriving in Malaysia from countries where monkeypox is endemic or where cases have been confirmed.

The alert tells travellers from countries where monkeypox have been detected to monitor themselves for 21 days – the incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox – and to seek immediate medical attention if they develop symptoms.

Monkeypox symptoms include high fever, swelling at the neck, armpit or groin area, as well as rashes, vesicles (blisters), or pustules (small bumps on the skin that contain fluid or pus) on the body, especially the face, hands, feet, in the mouth, or genitalia.

The alert will be issued to travellers from Cameroon, Congo, Central African Republic, and Nigeria where monkeypox is endemic, and non-endemic countries like Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Khairy said the MySejahtera app will also be used as a home assessment tool (HAT) for patients to update their health status, in the event Malaysia reports cases of monkeypox, CodeBlue reported.

No cases of monkeypox have so far been detected in Malaysia. A child allegedly infected with monkeypox tested positive for hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) instead, and negative for monkeypox, Khairy told a virtual media briefing recently.

“We will also reactivate backward and forward contact tracing. We are now experts at this because of Covid-19. And if we do report a (monkeypox) case, we will do monitoring or HAT on MySejahtera. So, MySejahtera will be reactivated for HAT and home surveillance order (HSO) if there is a case or a need to contain monkeypox in Malaysia,” Khairy said.

The health minister did not state if 21-day mandatory quarantine would be imposed on people confirmed to be infected with monkeypox here.

Malaysia is also preparing to provide antivirals to patients with monkeypox as well as vaccines for close contacts and health care workers. However, few details were provided on the vaccine that will be used.

“This is a national strategic issue. All I can say is that we do have a strategic buffer stock for situations like this,” Khairy said, adding that MOH will not launch a mass vaccination programme against monkeypox.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccination against smallpox has been shown to be protective against monkeypox. Several observational studies found smallpox vaccination to be about 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox, WHO said.

A newer two-dose vaccine based on a modified attenuated vaccinia virus (Ankara strain) was approved for the prevention of monkeypox in 2019, though availability remains limited.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said while there are no specific treatments available for monkeypox infection, smallpox vaccine, cidofovir, ST-246, and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) can be used to control a monkeypox outbreak.

Khairy said federal guidelines on monkeypox have been issued to both public and private health facilities to manage monkeypox cases.

The government currently utilises labs at the Institute for Medical Research (IMR) and the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) to process specimens from animals and human patients suspected with monkeypox. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are used to detect the infectious disease.

Khairy said plans are underway to expand lab capacity for testing monkeypox virus to include labs at Sarawak General Hospital and Langkawi Hospital.

Officials have so far reportedly confirmed 226 monkeypox cases in 21 countries in the current international outbreak.


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