/ 12 June 2024

Mpox outbreak: Five cases confirmed, one death reported in South Africa

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A sign announcing monkeypox informations is setup in International Airport Treviso A. Canova, in Treviso, Italy, on November 30, 2022. (Photo by Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Health Minister Joe Phaala said on Wednesday that laboratory tests had confirmed five cases of mpox and the death of an adult male from Tembisa, Gauteng, of the same disease. 

Two of the cases were in Gauteng and three in KwaZulu-Natal. 

“One death is too many, especially from a preventable and manageable disease like mpox,” Phaala said at a media briefing in Pretoria. 

All reported mpox cases were males aged between 30 and 39 years without any travel history to the countries currently experiencing an outbreak, according to the minister. This suggested local transmission.  

Mpox is a rare viral infectious disease that presents respiratory symptoms, fever and enlarged lymph nodes followed by a blister-like rash on the skin. It can be spread from one person to another through close contact with lesions, sexual contact, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.

South Africa’s transmission cases have been in comorbidities with the key population being Men who have Sex with Men, according to the department.

“Thus, the department is reaching out to organisations working on HIV programmes and with key populations in addition to other stakeholders to implement targeted communication to intensify awareness about the outbreak and local transmission of the disease,” Phaala said. 

The disease incubation period is three to 17 days, during which an infected person may not show symptoms until a rash forms. But the National Institute for Communicable Diseases warns that mpox patients can spread the disease to others from when symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed.

While the disease has rarely proven to be fatal — most cases are resolved within two to four weeks — the health department warned that symptoms should not be ignored. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a mpox outbreak in 2022 after multiple countries reported cases. An unlinked epidemic broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2023.

While there is no registered treatment for mpox in South Africa, the WHO recommends the use of tecovirimat (sold under the brand name TPOXX) for the treatment of severe cases.

The health department has confirmed that it obtained tecovirimat through using the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority section 21 approval on a “compassionate use basis” for the known patients with the disease.