The residents of Bayelsa State are currently living in fear as a new deadly epidemic known as “monkeypox” broke out in the state.
About 11 persons including a medical doctor, who have been infected with the virus, are said to have been quarantined at the in an isolation center at the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri in the Yenagoa.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the epidemiological team are reportedly tracking 49 other persons who were said to have come in contact with the victims.
Confirming the epidemic, the state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Ebitimitula Etebu, said that samples of the virus had been sent to the World Health Organisation laboratory in Dakar, Senegal for confirmation.
Etebu described monkeypox as a viral illness caused by a group of viruses that include chicken pox and small pox.
He said the virus was first noticed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and later started breaking out in the West African region.
The commissioner added that the virus had the Central African and the West African types –“the West African type is milder and has no records of mortality”, he said.
“Recently in Bayelsa State, we noticed a suspected outbreak of monkeypox. It has not been confirmed. We have sent samples to the World Health Organisation reference laboratory in Dakar, Senegal.
“When that comes out we will be sure that it is confirmed. But from all indications, it points towards it.
“As the name implies, the virus was first seen in monkey, but can also be found in all bush animals such as rats, squirrels and antelopes.
“The source is usually all animals. It was first seen in monkeys and that is why it is called monkeypox. But every bush animals such as rats, squirrels, antelopes are involved. So, the secretions from particularly dead animals are highly contagious.”
He listed the symptoms of monkeypox as severe headache, fever, back pains amongst other symptoms, noting that most worrisome of all the signs were rashes bigger than those caused by chicken pox.
Ebetu said the rashes usually spread to the whole body of an infected person.
On the Bayelsa outbreak, he said, “We noticed the first index case from Agbura where somebody was purported to have killed and eaten a monkey and after that the people who are his neighbours and family members started developing the rashes.
“We have seen cases from as far as Biseni. We invited the NCDC together with our own epidemiological team from the Bayelsa Ministry of Health. We have been able to trace most of the people who have come in contact with the patients.
“So far, we have 10 patients and we have created an isolation centre at the NDUTH and most of them are on admission and we are following up the 49 cases that we are suspecting may come down with the illness. As a state we are taking care of all the expenses of all the isolated cases.
“The disease has an incubation period and it is also self-limiting in the sense that within two to four weeks, you get healed and it confers you with immunity for life.
“We have mobilised virtually every arsenal at our disposal in terms of sensitising the general public and making them aware by radio programmes, jingles and fliers. Also, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has mobilised fully to Bayelsa State. We are on top of the situation.
“The only thing I will tell the general public is to observe hand hygiene and ensure they don’t come in contact with dead animals and their secretions. The disease is airborne too. So, it is very infectious.
“People should wash their hands whenever they go in or come out of their houses. If they touch with animals, they should ensure that they wash their hands. They should be very vigilant. People should report any similar cases to the relevant authorities.
“A lot of people have come down with the symptoms but they are hiding in their houses. If they hide, there is the propensity for the infection to spread.”
Etebu urged residents to be calm as personal protective equipment have been distributed to workers.