BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei will procure vaccines and antiviral drugs against monkeypox as cases of the zoonotic virus continued to rise globally.

Senior health officials said no monkeypox cases have been detected in Brunei so far, but the country is preparing for a possible outbreak as there is a risk of the virus spreading in the community.

Outlining its monkeypox prevention and control plan in a press briefing on Monday, the health ministry said it is in the process of acquiring vaccines and antiviral drugs but mass vaccination is not necessary at the moment.

Dr Justin Wong, MoH’s public health consultant, said monkeypox vaccines can be administered to close contacts of cases. 

He said previous vaccination against smallpox can provide protection from monkeypox infection.

Smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980, is closely related to the virus that causes monkeypox.

Studies showed that vaccination against smallpox was 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox.

“However, individuals born after the early 1970s may not have received the [smallpox] vaccine,” Dr Wong said.

He added that there are five priority areas in the country’s monkeypox prevention and control plan: surveillance; laboratory testing; vaccination and medicine; prevention and control; and community involvement.

Health Minister Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said MoH is monitoring visitors to clinics or hospitals for any symptoms of monkeypox as part of its surveillance.

“If there are any concerns or if someone is suspected of being infected with monkeypox, there are processes that need to be followed and the team from the Disease Control Division will investigate further,” he added.

The World Health Organization said a total of 2,103 monkeypox cases have been confirmed across 42 countries as of June 15. One death was also reported.

Monkeypox was previously endemic in Africa, but has since spread to Europe, North America and Latin America.

Currently, Brunei does not have the diagnostic capacity to test for monkeypox. The health ministry said swab samples will be sent overseas but it is also working to ensure laboratories can detect the virus in Brunei.

An electron microscopic image shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virus particles as well as crescents and spherical particles of immature virions, obtained from a clinical human skin sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak in this undated image obtained by Reuters on May 18, 2022. Photo: Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regnery/CDC handout via Reuters

MoH Infectious Diseases Consultant Dr Hjh Riamiza Natalie Hj Momin said most monkeypox cases do not require special treatment.

“They are usually given pain relief treatment for the rash and treatment for any complications that may arise such as super infection with bacteria,” she said.

However, she added that antiviral drugs against monkeypox can be considered for those at high risk, such as those who are immunocompromised or developed complications.

What you need to know about monkeypox

Monkeybox is a viral zoonotic disease caused by monkeypox virus infection from the orthopox virus group. It was first detected in 1958 when diseases such as smallpox that were found in monkeys were kept for research.

The first case of monkeypox in humans was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, it has been reported in several other countries in Central and West Africa.

The main symptoms of monkeypox are rash, fever, swelling of lymph nodes. Other symptoms include headaches, muscle aches, or body aches or fatigue.

These symptoms can look similar to smallpox, chickenpox, shingles and certain skin infections.

In most cases, the symptoms will go away within 2-4 weeks. Those experiencing symptoms are advised to visit a doctor for further investigation.

The monkeypox virus is transmitted through direct physical contact. Most of the cases were found to be spread through sexual and intimate contact.

“Overall, the current risk to the public remains low, but this risk is higher in certain population groups, particularly sexually active individuals with multiple partners,” Dr Wong said.

“Although monkeypox infection has so far been characterised as a mild self-limiting disease, it can be more severe in high-risk groups and have immunocompromised conditions, for example people with untreated HIV,” he added.

Monkeypox is usually mild and only a few hospital admissions have been reported for secondary infections and pain management.