By Sinazo Mkoko


Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which kept us in our homes for more than two years and resulted in so many changes and uncertainties, it’s no surprise that people across the globe might worry about another pandemic. 

Just a day after the Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla announced lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions in South Africa on June 22, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), confirmed that a first case of monkeypox had been identified through laboratory testing at the NICD in South Africa. The case involved a 30-year-old male residing in the Gauteng province who reported no recent travel history. So far, the country has recorded three cases of the monkeypox in Gauteng, Western Cape and Limpopo. Authorities and health experts have stated that the virus is not new, as it was first found in 1958 in monkeys and the first human case was recorded in 1970. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has since declared monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). 

According to the NICD, monkeypox is a rare viral infection in humans. The virus has been reported in more than 3 000 individuals from several European countries, the USA, 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,” stated the institute. 

NICD states that person-to-person transmission involves close contact with an infected person or materials that have been contaminated by an infected person – such as linen, clothes and other household items.  “The virus is not highly transmissible and close physical contact is required for transmission. It does not spread similarly to influenza or the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

They said most cases do not require hospital treatment and the prevention depends on the isolation of cases until fully recovered. “The risk to the general population is considered low, given the low transmissibility of the virus.” – NICD

According to the Chief Executive Officer of Discovery, Dr Ryan Noach, monkeypox is almost never fatal, and typically resolves spontaneously. “Of all the cases recorded in this outbreak, there are only five confirmed deaths.”- Dr Noach.  He added that there are now about 16,000 recorded cases across more than 70 countries. “The disease appears to be spreading in countries that have not historically reported monkeypox infections and through new modes of transmission, which are not yet fully understood,” he stated. 

Noach has pointed out that this virus is different from the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Differences between COVID-19 and Monkeypox

  • Monkeypox is a well-known, typically rare viral disease that has been around for a long time. COVID-19 developed from a novel (newly identified) Coronavirus that quickly became ubiquitous globally.
  • Monkeypox is significantly less contagious than the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Importantly, to date, this outbreak of monkeypox appears to be transmitted through direct bodily fluid contact, whereas COVID-19 posed a much higher person-to-person transmission risk through proximity to an infected individual. That said, more needs to be understood about monkeypox’s mode of transmission which seems to have changed, resulting in the current outbreak.
  • Monkeypox is almost never fatal, and typically resolves spontaneously, consequently posing a low threat to healthcare systems. We are not at all likely to witness healthcare professionals and the healthcare system being severely impacted by this monkeypox outbreak, to the same extent as COVID-19.
  • It is highly unlikely to have the global healthcare and economic consequences of COVID-19.


How to prevent monkeypox infection?

  • Avoid contact with people who are suspected or known to be infected with the virus
  • Avoid contact with bedding and other materials that may be contaminated with the virus
  • Practice safe sex
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water