As monkeypox gets reported in a world still grappling with Covid-19, virologist Gagandeep Kang says, India should build its capacities, be it in diagnostics or developing vaccines, and continue to generate stable data to help frame policy.

Monkeypox is less transmissible than Covid-19, has an incubation time of one-two weeks, and so can be contained through effective contact tracing and isolation, especially when the numbers are less, explains Kang. But the authorities need to be prepared by reaching out to companies for antivirals and vaccines, and need to include private laboratories to build testing capacities, she said.

Harking back to the time of HINI, Kang told BusinessLine, private laboratories had been invited to take up the testing. A similar approach should be adopted now, she said, specially since it is a straight foward PCR test. “More people should be allowed to test, and a few samples can be sent to the (Government) referral labs,” she said, adding that the private labs could be given standardised protocols to follow, with the Government keeping a check on quality.

The important thing on dealing with infectious diseases is to keep the surveillance and data collection stable, be it Covid-19 or monkeypox, she said. “You cannot be focussing all your energies only on Covid-19 or monkeypox, when there are so many diseases out there,” she said, pointing to tuberculosis, for example, where services had been impacted over the last couple of years.

WHO concern

Over the weekend, the World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, even as the expert committee were divided on whether it posed a global concern.

“At that meeting, while differing views were expressed, the committee resolved by consensus that the outbreak did not represent a public health emergency of international concern. At the time, 3040 cases of monkeypox had been reported to WHO, from 47 countries. Since then, the outbreak has continued to grow, and there are now more than 16 thousand reported cases from 75 countries and territories, and five deaths,” Tedros said.

Infact, a key concern on the virus, among other things, is its reporting from individuals who do not have a history of travel. But tha’s precisely the situation where effective contact tracing is needed, said Kang, Professor with The Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Christian Medical College (Vellore).

Pre-80s advantage?

Monkeypox belongs to the small pox family and some doctors indicate that those born before the 1980s and vaccinated against small pox, could have some advantage. (Small pox has since been eradicated.) Kang observed, those below 40 years, certainly needed to be watchful of this virus that spreads through air among those in close proximity and intimate physical contact. However, she added, vaccine protection wanes with age, so that too needed to be considered.

If there is a ready supply of vaccines, she said, high risk groups etc could be vaccinated. But presently, since people were recovering with effective diagnosis and quarantine, “that is good enough”, she said.

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