Possible outbreak of Mpox - previously Monkeypox, a threat to stability of the country ahead of elections

Painful blisters are among the symptoms of Mpox of which a case has been reported in the country. Supplied

Painful blisters are among the symptoms of Mpox of which a case has been reported in the country. Supplied

Published May 19, 2024


AS the past week saw authorities warn the public to be on the lookout for and remain on high alert, as a case of Mpox was identified in Gauteng, so did conspiracy theories it spelt doom for elections in two weeks.

This after the Department of Health reported that a 35 year-old man from Gauteng had tested positive for the viral infection.

The case follows the last reports of the high infectious disease being identified in the country in August 2022 and as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said as of April, 466 new laboratory-confirmed cases had been identified worldwide.

Of these three people had died from 22 countries, and the DRC was reportedly seeing a surge in cases.

Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, said the public had to be vigilant and on high alert for the disease.

Said Phaahla: “The case is a 35 year-old male residing in the Gauteng province who tested positive on 9 May.”

He was first tested by Lancet Laboratory which was later confirmed by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) which immediately notified the department.

Mpox is a rare viral infectious disease in humans caused by the monkeypox virus (MPXV). It is identified by a painful rash, enlarged lymph nodes and fever, and most people fully recover. “....but some get very sick,” the WHO said.

The patient, the department said, had no recent travel history to countries experiencing an outbreak of the disease, and contact tracing was in progress.

These words have sparked fear across the country, as some feel it could spell another lockdown, while others wondered if it would see the elections, scheduled for May 29, be postponed to avoid the rapid spread.

Said one political commentator, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, “One has to wonder at this, especially as reports and rumours of plans to postpone the elections have been making the rounds for a few weeks.”

Saying this was not far-fetched as parties were in high gear and nearing the end of their campaign period, with some going toe to toe in unprecedented popularity, she said it could also be innocent, as the disease was clearly in existence in other countries.

But, she added: “We do know how dirty politics can be. A lockdown would be perfect to allow parties to go back to the drawing board, to find ways to win back votes. We cannot put it past those in power because we can all see, some parties are gaining popularity over others.”

Another thought was that the virus - which is highly infectious and spread through close contact among others, was being seeded not just in South Africa but in other countries as well for political and power goals.

Mpox, health officials said, spread fast via close contact, and it affected populations fast, especially older people, children and those with compromised immune systems.

Said Dr Mpho Seleki: “If we were to see a few more cases in the next few weeks, it would definitely be prudent to postpone large gatherings of people, among them getting people to stand in voting queues.

“This would be advisable, as Mpox can spread quickly especially. The country cannot afford another lockdown, but if it had to be, one would have to imposed, to avoid the country being in a pandemic, after the Covid-19 one which dealt us a major blow.”

Mpox causes signs and symptoms which usually begin within a week but can start 1–21 days after exposure. Symptoms typically last 2–4 weeks but may last longer in someone with a weakened immune system.

The Centre for Disease Control cautioned that the most common symptoms of mpox included a rash, fever, a sore throat, a headache and muscle aches.

“For some people, the first symptom of mpox is a rash,which begins as a flat sore which develops into a blister filled with liquid and may be itchy or painful. As the rash heals, the lesions dry up, crust over and fall off,” they added.

While some people may have one or a few skin lesions others had hundreds or more, and they could appear anywhere on the body, like on the palms of hands and soles of feet, face, mouth and throat, groin and genital areas.

“Some people also have painful swelling of their rectum or pain and difficulty when peeing. People with Mpox are infectious and can pass the disease on to others until all sores have healed and a new layer of skin has formed.”