First case of monkeypox confirmed in South Africa

Health Minister Joe Phaahla on Thursday confirmed South Africa’s first case of monkeypox, saying the disease was detected in a 30 year old male patient from Johannesburg who had no history of having travelled.

Health authorities were still working to establish how the man had contracted the virus,  Phaahla told a news conference, adding: “The disease only spreads through close droplets so you cannot get it by being in the same room with an infected person.”

He urged South Africans not to panic, noting that monkeypox was not an airborne disease like Covid-19.

“It’s not a very severe illness but also because it is not spread simply by being in the environment where there might be somebody with the disease, there has to be actual contact with a person who is infected,” Phaahla said.

“I can assure South Africans that this is not a novel virus which has never been seen before; its characteristics are well known even in countries where there are high numbers; it has not changed in terms of its character and severity.”

In a statement also confirming the first case, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said contact tracing had commenced, identifying any additional linked cases of monkeypox in South Africa. 

It noted that monkeypox, which presents with an acute illness characterised by fever and general flu-like symptoms, followed by the eruption of a blister-like rash on the skin, is rarely fatal and cases typically resolve within two to four weeks.

“Most cases do not require hospital treatment. Prevention of infection hinges on the isolation of cases until fully recovered. The risk to the general population is considered low, given the low transmissibility of the virus,” the NICD added.

According to the NICD, since May, monkeypox has been reported in more than 3 000 individuals from several European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

This is the first multi-country outbreak of monkeypox and is already the largest outbreak of monkeypox recorded. The cases to date mostly involve individuals that self-identify as men having sex with men. Risk factors include reporting multiple sexual partners. Recent large social events are thought to have served as super spreader events.

At Thursday’s briefing, Phaahla said he supported the continued wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 despite the government’s repeal of the mandate the previous day.

“Managers and owners of facilities can take their time to negotiate with their clients in terms of how they’re going to manage that because of the health benefits of the mask in indoor situations if some of those managing facilities want to retain their safety,” he said.  

The lifting of the remaining regulations had been anticipated since a letter ostensibly written by Phaahla was leaked on Monday. In the letter, Phaahla said South Africa had exited its fifth wave and its remaining Covid-19 restrictions “no longer need to be in place at the present moment”.

The wearing of masks in public has been compulsory since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, although the rules were relaxed to scrap the requirement when outdoors.

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