South Africa

SA to screen travellers for Mpox: What you need to know

What you need to know about Mpox exposure, symptoms, and treatment.

Amid several confirmed Mpox cases, the South African Border Management Authority (BMA) has activated its outbreak preparedness plan to tackle the rising numbers.

This comes after the National Department of Health reported and confirmed 13 cases of Monkeypox (Mpox).

On Tuesday, BMA commissioner Dr Michael Masiapato announced that a robust screening process has been implemented at all South African ports of entry to detect and respond to potential cases.

Mpox screening and scanning

All people travelling into South Africa will undergo screening and scanning to determine exposure to Mpox.

At airports, the initial screening phase involves the conveyance operator [the captain] submitting a mandatory health declaration form, confirming no passengers have reported or shown symptoms during the journey.

This is in accordance with International Health Regulations.

According to the BMA, after the initial screening, travellers will then undergo thermal screening to check for elevated temperatures. This process is also applicable to land and seaports.

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“Should the traveller present with an elevated temperature, such traveller will be isolated and assisted with further screening,” the BMA said in a statement

It said this will involve interviews to establish if the traveller is experiencing other symptoms.

Additionally, the authority added that BMA Port Health officers will also conduct interviews and non-invasive observations.

“Our officers are thoroughly trained to identify lesions and symptoms, and we have arranged ambulance services with the Department of Health for swift referrals to healthcare facilities,” Masiapato assured.

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“We are in close collaboration with district communicable disease facilities to ensure prompt reporting and response to suspected cases,” said Masiapato.

While no Mpox cases have been detected at ports of entry yet, the BMA has intensified health education and awareness efforts for travellers.

The BMA echoes the National Department of Health’s advisory for travellers with chronic conditions to continue their medication, as they may experience more severe symptoms.

Suspected cases are urged to seek immediate medical attention, especially those with a travel history to areas with reported Mpox cases.

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“We are vigilant and prepared to respond to any situation. Our Port Health officers are well-equipped to handle any scenario, and we will continue to work closely with health authorities to ensure the safety of all travellers,” Masiapato emphasised.

Mpox treatment received, no vaccine yet

South Africa received the first batch of the Mpox treatment on Thursday last week.

The Department of Health announced that it has received a batch of Mpox-specific treatment. The Tecovirimat also referred to as the TPOXX or ST-246, serves to treat patients who experience severe health complications due to the Mpox disease.

National Health Department spokesperson Foster Mohale advised the nation to “self-isolate where possible and avoid contact with people” should one find themselves exposed to the disease.

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He said seven cases were confirmed in KwaZulu-Natal, five in Gauteng and one in the Western Cape.

The rising numbers accumulated over 13 days. While no vaccines have been announced, Mohale said the process to acquire additional treatment was underway.

According to Health Minister Joe Phaahla, the country is attempting to get the vaccine from World Health Organisation (WHO) member countries that have a surplus of stockpiles.

Phaahla said the vaccines would be kept and distributed from provincial depots.

“Additional intervention is being considered, as the National Advisory Group for Immunisation (NAGI) Technical Working Group for Mpox vaccines has been appointed and is considering Mpox vaccine for both pre and post-exposure administration for high-risk groups,” he added.

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Mpox symptoms

Some common symptoms of Mpox include a painful rash that resembles blisters or sores. It is likely to appear on the face, hand palms, feet soles and groin. This may last approximately 2-4 weeks.

Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, fatigue and swollen glands (lymph nodes).

Mohale said all moderate symptoms would be handled with treatment used for managing fever, pneumonia and skin infections.

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Furthermore, he emphasised the need for hand hygiene and deemed it a preventative measure against the disease.

“People are reminded to always wash hands with soap and water, or to use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, especially before eating or touching your face and after you use the bathroom,” said Mohale.

How does Mpox spread?

Mpox is mainly spread through direct contact with infected body fluids, lesions or scabs on the skin. It can also be passed on through extended engagement with airborne droplets from coughing, sneezing breathing and speaking.

Additionally, one can get the disease through contact with contaminated materials, objects or surfaces.

Therefore, anyone can be at risk of acquiring Mpox. However, men who have sex with men, healthcare workers, and sex workers are at a higher risk of contracting the disease.