Could the Monkeypox virus become yet another global pandemic?

Professor Cheryl Cohen from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is urging government to reimpose COVID-19 regulations because of the rate at which Monkeypox is spreading in the rest of the world. In the light of these developments, employers are therefore best advised to start familiarising themselves with what Monkeypox is and what can be done to help curb the virus and prevent it from reaching epidemic proportions. (SA)UEO spoke to occupational health and safety (PHS) specialist Henk Horn from Global Safety Consultants to gain an understanding of the Monkeypox basics.


What is the Monkeypox exactly?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the Monkeypox virus. The Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms, but milder, and Monkeypox is rarely fatal. According to the WHO (World Health Organization) it is also a viral zoonotic infection, meaning that it can spread from animals to humans, or from person to person.


Who is most likely to contract the virus?

According to the WHO:

  • Most at risk, are people who live with or have close contact (including sexual contact) with someone who has Monkeypox, or who has regular contact with animals who could be infected. As such, health workers should take special care to follow infection prevention and control measures to protect themselves while caring for Monkeypox patients.
  • New-born infants, young children and people with underlying immune deficiencies may be at risk of more serious symptoms, and in rare cases, even death from Monkeypox.
  • People who were vaccinated against smallpox may have some protection against Monkeypox. However, younger people are unlikely to have been vaccinated against smallpox because smallpox vaccination stopped in most settings worldwide after it was eradicated in 1980. People who have indeed been vaccinated against smallpox should however continue to take precautions to protect themselves and others.


What are the symptoms of Monkeypox?

A range of signs and symptoms can be caused by Monkeypox. Some people tend to have mild symptoms but in other cases people showed more serious symptoms when they contracted the disease. Some of the known symptoms are: fever; headaches; muscle aches; back pain; low energy levels and swollen lymph nodes. This is typically followed or accompanied by the development of a rash which can last for two to three weeks.


How can we protect our working environment against Monkeypox?

The WHO advises the following:

  • Limit close contact with people who have suspected or confirmed Monkeypox, or with animals who could be infected.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect environments that could have been contaminated with the virus from someone who is infectious.
  • Keep yourself informed about Monkeypox developments in your area.
  • If you suspect you may have Monkeypox, immediately seek medical advice and isolate yourself from others, until you have been evaluated and tested.
  • If you have probable or confirmed Monkeypox, you should isolate from others until all of your lesions have crusted over, the scabs have fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed underneath. This will prevent you from spreading the virus.
  • Until more is understood about transmission through sexual fluids, use condoms as a precaution whilst having sexual contact for 12 weeks after you have recovered.


What is the current Monkeypox status?

The current outbreak is dominated by high numbers in European countries such as the UK, Spain, Germany, Portugal and France. Some Monkeypox cases have also been reported in the USA and Canada. These developments have led to the NICD calling for COVID-19 measures to be reinstated, so that the spread of Monkeypox in South Africa can be tracked. However, there are currently no governing regulations pertaining to Monkeypox in our country.


What is the responsibility of employers in the matter?

To help minimise the potential impact of Monkeypox in South Africa and especially on our workplaces and operations, it is advisable for employers to be proactive in the matter. Therefore, until more is known about this disease, it is recommended that employers follow similar procedures as with COVID-19, which are as follows:

  • Isolate the person and get him/her to a healthcare professional.
  • Clean the area where he/she performed their duties.
  • Do contact tracing and if someone is suspected of having contracted the virus, follow the procedure from the top again.


Assistance with Monkeypox policies and procedures

Global Safety Consultants are contracted by eRefer to render specialist services to members and organisers of the (SA)UEO at a preferred rate. For more information, or assistance with workplace risk assessments, or Monkeypox policies and procedures, simply email