MANILA – The Philippines on Friday (July 29) reported its first case of monkeypox.
The virus was found carried by a Filipino who flew back to Manila on July 19, Health Department spokesman Beverly Ho said in a news briefing. He had been in countries with known monkeypox cases.
The 31-year-old was admitted to a hospital after testing positive for monkeypox on July 28 but has been discharged.
He is now “undergoing strict isolation and monitoring at home”, said Dr Ho.
The patient was found to have 10 close contacts, including three from his family. All are not showing any symptoms but are still under quarantine.
Dr Ho said the Philippines has been working with the United States to secure vaccines for monkeypox.
Access to these vaccines has been tight for countries such as the Philippines, as not many doses are available and only a select population group - mostly men who have sex with men - have to be vaccinated, unlike Covid-19, she said.
Rolling out vaccines is also likely to bump into deeply held religious beliefs in this largely Catholic nation that regards homosexuality as a sin and gay sex as taboo.
The government has included questions screening for monkeypox in travel declarations for those coming to the Philippines. That, so far, has been the country’s only deterrence.
But Dr Ho assured that “our systems are in place… We all need to work together. We also need the public to be vigilant, including the key population groups at most risk.”
She reiterated an advisory from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that asks those in the group highly susceptible to the virus to limit their sexual partners.
“Based on what we know about monkeypox, lifestyle, there is a clear need to be more careful about who we interact with, especially sexual intimate contact,” said Dr Ho.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday (July 27) that the best way to protect against infection was to “reduce the risk of exposure”.
Dr Tedros has declared monkeypox a global health emergency, with over 18,000 cases now reported in at least 78 countries. At least five have died.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 98 per cent of infected people were gay or bisexual men, and 95 per cent of cases were transmitted through sexual activity.
But experts say the transmission of the disease, which causes a blistering rash, appears to mainly happen during close, physical contact, and monkeypox has so far not been labelled a sexually transmitted infection.
The WHO has repeatedly warned against stigma around the disease, which could dissuade those infected from seeking treatment.
“Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus, and can fuel the outbreak,” said Dr Tedros.